A volunteer fire company is threatening to separate from Salisbury Fire Department amid tension brought on by political views and scheduling conflicts.
Chief Rick Hoppes says a decision to have volunteers from Company 1 man fire stations at night and on weekends is needed to reduce response times to fires and medical emergencies.
Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said the volunteers at that station contacted him to intervene with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day after they said the city began ordering them to spend all night at the station twice a month.
Delmarvanow.com reports Culver was not excited to hear about the change in policy.
“I didn’t agree with that because these people have families and have jobs,” Culver said. “I said, ‘Jake, I’m getting calls and they can’t do it.’ Let’s face it, most of these crews are young people.”
Chief Hoppes says the policy doesn’t affect all volunteer firefighters.
He said the new rules are not mandatory. Volunteers are still allowed to respond from their homes, however, it’s new recruits who will be required to man the stations.
Company 1 President David Elliott Sr. and Vice President Charles Foskey and other firefighters all declined to comment on the record when contacted by The Daily Times. A Company 1 press release from late Friday highlighted points the group says are inaccurate.
The Chief attests Hoppes the decision to have volunteers help man the city’s three fire stations on nights and weekends was made by a task force of fire department members — with the main goal being deceased response times. He said the decision was made because volunteers at Station 1 have failed to meet standards for response time during the past four years.
Tensions began to rise Feb. 22 when Elliott and Foskey issued a news release announcing that Company 1 had decided to separate from the Salisbury Fire Department effective July 1.
In a second news release issued by Company 1, members said the city has locked them out of Station 1 and threatened them with criminal trespass charges.
The mayor paints a different picture of the situation.
Seven members drove to Station 1 and began removing equipment and loading it into their personal vehicles, according to Day. City police officers arrived on the scene and told the firefighters to return the equipment to the building. They did so, and the city declined to press charges, reports Delmarvanow.com.
The city has set aside time for firefighters to come and collect personal belongings.
The mayor says 10 of the 30 members of Company 1 have resigned, while 10 more have expressed interest in transferring to another volunteer company in the fire department. The rest were still pending as of Friday.
Company 1 and volunteers dispute the city’s numbers saying they have not resigned since their intention to separate from the department doesn’t start until July 1.
The tensions at Station 1 may be deep rooted in history.
Hoppes, who has been with the department for 32 years, said there was an incident in 1983 in which a volunteer got into a physical altercation with a paid paramedic. The volunteer was disciplined as a result, but that didn’t sit well with other volunteers, who took issue with the fire chief disciplining one of their own.
The volunteers went on strike, although it was “short-lived,” he said.
Then in 2002, Station 2 voted to leave the department, citing disagreements with then-chief Stephen Brezler, according to news reports. At that time, however, Station 1 said it was not looking to separate from the Salisbury Fire Department, and was concerned solely with the command changes.
Station 1 firefighters said they felt as if Brezler was not listening to the volunteers as much as the paid firefighters.
Brezler resigned as a result of the pushback.
Officers of Company 1 announced Wednesday their play to separate from the fire department effective July 1 came about because the city has refused to participate in mediation.
News of the volunteers separating from the fire station is cause for concern in the community.
“If the city fire department wants to bring in more paid firemen, that’s good, but I support the volunteers, too,” said June Sargent, who lives in the vicinity of Station 1.
Officials say if/when Company 1 executes its walkout this summer, it will have little to no effect on the services provided by the fire department.
Fewer volunteers would mean more tax dollars needed to pay salary and benefits of career firefighters, said Mike Poremba of Eden. Volunteer firefighters are dedicated community servants, reporting to the job because they care, not because it pays the bills, he said.
“Taxpayers appreciate volunteers,” said Poremba, whose hometown is served by a volunteer fire company in nearby Allen. “I’m comfortable and secure, and I don’t have to lay out more money to pay firefighters. “Whenever you need them, they’re there,” Delmarvanow.com reports.
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