Janesville85.1°

Edgerton Fire plans to hire full-time chiefs

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Stacy Vogel
October 3, 2008
— Brian Demrow knew leading a volunteer fire department would be a lot of work, but he had no idea how much.

Demrow usually works at his full-time job until 3:30, then works a couple of hours at the Edgerton Fire Station filling out paperwork, returning phone calls and performing other administrative duties, he said. He attends weekly training sessions and commission meetings that occur once a month or more, in addition to responding to fire calls.


“That leaves little or no time for my family,” he said. “It’s just too much for a part-time person to do.”


The Edgerton Fire Protection District Commission agrees. The commission Thursday approved a budget that includes $160,000 for a full-time chief and administrator/deputy chief.


It was able to add the positions without increasing its tax levy because it no longer has to set aside money for three former employees who were suing the district.


The district laid off the employees in 2003 for financial concerns, the commission said. But the employees sued, saying they were fired for joining a union.


An appeals court ordered the men reinstated with back pay last year. In June, the district agreed to pay the former employees almost $600,000, and they agreed to resign their positions.


But you can’t compare the former employees to the new positions, commission members said.


The former employees drove fire vehicles and maintained the station, commission member Nancy Dickinson said. The new jobs will be administrative positions with specific qualifications and training.


Demrow, who is paid $7,000 a year as part-time chief, and Assistant Chief Ryan Beckwith suggested the change, Demrow said. The volunteers supported it, and so did the commission when it learned how much work the positions are, Dickinson said.


“Once we began to be aware of the tremendous hours the chiefs have been putting in to protect the public safety, you can’t expect them to put in that many hours,” she said.


Several local fire departments, including Clinton and Brodhead, employ full-time chiefs, Demrow said.


The commission still has to create job descriptions, set salaries and set requirements for the new positions before approving them, Linsley said.


Volunteers also will see a change to their compensation in the 2009 budget. Currently, the volunteers are paid with the proceeds of the annual firefighters ball and usually get about $8 per call or training session, Demrow said.


The chiefs asked the commission to start paying members regular rates based on hours spent on calls or training, not just incidents. The members will receive an average of $12 per hour in 2009.


The budget passed by the commission included a 6.7 percent increase in spending, but the increase was offset by $50,000 left over from money set aside for the lawsuit. The levy shows a decrease of half a percent.


But the levy still could go up. The district received an e-mail Tuesday from Curtis Ambulance, the company the district pays to provide emergency medical services, saying it wants to raise its fee from $103,000 in 2008 to $200,000 in 2009.


The district had set aside $120,000 for ambulance service in its 2009 budget.


The commission will discuss its options with Curtis Ambulance and try to find a way to lower the fee, Commission President Jim Linsley said.


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The Edgerton Fire Protection District went into sticker shock Tuesday over a proposed service increase.


Commission President Jim Linsley received an e-mail saying Curtis Ambulance wanted to nearly double its fee for providing ambulance service to the Edgerton area.


The company wants to raise its fee from $103,000 in 2008 to $200,000 in 2009, according to the e-mail.


In its nine years contracting with Edgerton, Curtis Ambulance has averaged a $6,000 annual profit, but it stands to lose $31,000 in Edgerton this year, owner and CEO Jim Baker said Thursday.


The ambulance service has had to double full-time staff in Edgerton from two to four over the past year because it’s losing volunteer EMTs, he said.


Volunteer fire and EMS units across the country are losing members because people no longer have the time to commit, Baker said.


But commission member Dave Viney said he’d heard management problems, not time constraints, were causing some volunteers to resign.


Commission members wondered why they were just learning of the proposed increase this week. Baker and Linsley each blamed the other for not returning calls to discuss contract fees.


The commission budgeted $120,000 for ambulance service in the 2009 budget it passed Thursday.


Linsley said he’s not sure what options the Edgerton district has. He hopes the district can attract new volunteer EMTs and/or coax back volunteers who have resigned so Curtis can reduce its full-time staff, he said.


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A look at the 2009 budget for the Edgerton Fire Protection District:

Total budget


Next year $648,000*


This year $607,000


Increase 6.7%


Tax levy


Next year $543,000*


This year $546,000


Decrease 0.5%


Note: Percent changes calculated on whole numbers.


*The budget and levy could change because the district isn’t sure how much it will pay for ambulance service in 2009.



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