Emergency calls to be more expensive
Fire volunteers may soon be paid minimum wage
Town of Lisbon — Fire Chief Doug Brahm advised the Town Board on Sept. 23 that it must begin financially preparing for the day it will be required to pay the state minumum wage of $7.25 an hour to paid-on-call volunteer firefighters who spend the night or weekends on duty at town fire stations.
According to various fire officials in Lake Country, a court decision in December 2012 requires fire departments to pay the minumum wage to volunteer and part-time firefighters who are required to be on duty overnight and on weekends.
A paid-on-call volunteer is defined as an individual who volunteers to work for a fire department and is paid a wage or stipend each time the individuals responds to a call. However, such individuals are not required to respond to any calls or carry out any other duties, according to Brahm and other fire chiefs.
Lake Country Fire and Rescue officials say the court decision has cost them an additional $50,000 to $60,000 annually in wages.
That estimated cost does not include additional costs the department will have to pay in state retirement benefits earned by paid-on-call volunteers, according to LCFR Fire Chief Jack Edwards.
Brahm recommended the Town Board begin establishing a reserve fund so there will be money available when the department is required to pay the wages.
In addition, he recommended the board begin paying volunteers a $25 stipend if they are willing to stay overnight or work weekends.
The stipends are included in the Braun's proposed 2014 department budget of $718,000 that includes a more-than $185,000 increase in department wages and salaries.
Brahm emphasised that those who recieve the stipends cannot be required to fulfill any duty responsibilities or be prepared to respond to a call, otherwise the department is imposing requirements that define the volunteer as an employee.
Brahm suggested that the stipend fund intially be about $90,000. Town Chairman Matt Gehrke said he wanted the Town Board to complete its review of the proposed $6.3 million budget for 2014 before making a decision on Braham's stipend proposal.
Brahm explained that the town has been able to avoid paying the minimum wages because there are enough community-based volunteers willing — but not required — to work nights and weekends. Because they are in the community, they are not required to spend that time at the station.
"But with the increasing number of emergency calls and the decreasing number of available volunteers, the day is going to come," Brahm told the board.
The department has a volunteer roster of 50 to 60 individuals; about 60 percent of them live in the Lisbon-Sussex community and are available to rapidly respond to an emergency because they live within a short distance of a station.
But Braun said the number of community-based volunteers is declining, and the department is depending more on volunteers from outside the community — usually individuals seeking a full-time career in firefighting but willing to work part time.
He added that there are no guarantees that the department can meet its self-imposed standard of a six-minute reponse time to an emergency call because there is no guarantee there will be adequate volunteers to quickly respond to a call.
He said that Lake Country Fire and Rescue, along with the Pewaukee, Brookfield, New Berlin and some other suburban fire departments, have made the committment to respond to all emergencies within six to eight minutes. To meet that committment, those departments have had to assign volunteers or part-time fire fighters to weekend or overnight duty.
Faster response times are guaranteed because firefighters are available at the stations when a call is received and can respond immediately. Otherwise, volunteers must travel from home or work.
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