LAWRENCE, Ind. - The Lawrence Fire Department is currently struggling to retain medics and EMT's due to low pay and recent action by the common council.
Fire Chief Dino Batalis said he was forced to take one of the city's ambulances out of service for 24 hours Saturday because he did not have the staff to run it.
"There are going to be several days when our city will be down to two ambulances," Batalis said. "It puts a huge strain."
He recently presented a plan to give EMT's and medics a $2 per hour raise. Batalis said medics currently make $15.64 an hour and he wants to bring that up to $17.64 an hour, which is more competitive with salaries in other parts of the county. The money for the increase would come from ambulance fees not taxpayer funds, according to Batalis. But, the common council voted down the proposal last week 6 to 3.
"We were all stunned," Batalis said. "It’s hard to provide the service we promise without all the tools."
Democrat Rick Wells was one of three councilors who voted in favor of the proposal.
"I thought it was pretty much a no-brainer," Wells said. "I was surprised we would jeopardize public safety."
The staffing shortage also puts more stress on firefighters, who spent 300 overtime hours covering ambulances in May. The overtime pay does come from taxpayer money.
Plus, moving a firefighter to an ambulance for the day puts a crew's safety at risk, Batalis said. Engines and ladder trucks are usually staffed with four firefighters which allows them to manage a fire hydrant, supervise the truck and go attack an active fire.
FOX 59 reached out to each of the six council members who voted against the proposal. None of them chose to provide a comment explaining their vote. In an audio recording of the council meeting held on June 15, council members question the proposal's long-term sustainability. The city comptroller addressed the council saying he felt comfortable with the city's ability to provide the increases.
"We are trying to get this thing corrected but we have to have their help to do this," Batalis said.
Here's a list of the council members who voted in favor of the proposal:
Rick Wells, (D) - District 2
Tom Shevlot, (R) - District 5
Bob Jones, (R) - At large
Here's a list of the council members who voted against the proposal:
Tyrell Giles, (D) - District 1
Sherron R. Freeman, (D)- District 3
Joe Williams, (D) - District 4
Elizabeth A. Wheeler, (D) - District 6
Greg Allen, (D) - At large
Lisa Chavis, (D) - At large