Concerns have been expressed openly through social media, word of mouth, and discussions held during recent county commissioner meetings. Tuesday night, long-time citizen Jack Hollis addressed the board of commissioners about his concerns.
Hollis said he appreciated all the hard work the county commissioners did to keep the county going, knew and appreciated the hardships they faced with trying to balance a budget while not increasing already over-taxed citizens, but he was very concerned about the state of affairs of the Jackson County Fire Rescue. Hollis started out by bringing a round of laughter when he said, “By the way I am standing, this is as tall as I get.”
Hollis said, “The most important thing to me in this county is if I have a problem or my wife, children or great grandchildren have a problem, and we have to call fire rescue, I would like for a qualified, experienced person to show up, not someone who is worn out from 48 hours of being on duty. And I feel the same way about the sheriff’s department, I would want somebody to come who was alert and not one of two or three deputies covering this entire county sometimes at night. What I want to say is that I realize that you have a dilemma here and I realize that we don’t have money growing on trees around here because if it did, I’d plant some in my yard. I know you don’t have excess money and taxing is very unpopular, but I know what is going to be even more unpopular is that when this 11-person deficit moves to 14, 15 or 16, I have a feeling that if something doesn’t happen with fire rescue, that you are going to lose more experienced people. I am in touch with the community, I pastored the same church 46 years. I don’t have anything against inexperienced people as long as they’ve passed the boards and learned the trade but there’s nothing quite like having that experience under your belt. I know a lot of people that have read a mechanic book and can’t fix a thing. I haven’t watched it on the news because when it comes on I just walk away from it. I wanted to talk to you about what my concerns were. I haven’t talked to anybody from fire rescue but I have heard a lot from the public and there is a real undercurrent in this county because of all of the unfortunate financing for law enforcement and especially a shortage of financing for fire rescue. We are in trouble at fire rescue, we have good people there, we have good leadership there and when they try to hire someone, you might as well tell them we pay you fifty cents an hour more than a person makes at WalMart and that’s with all their experience, schooling, and training. They need to see that this board cares about them and I just implore you to do what you can for them.”
Commissioner Chairman Eric Hill responded with the board was well aware of the problems facing both fire rescue and all the departments and that they were working hard and wanted to amend the situation. Hill said, “I have been meeting with the departments literally on a daily basis and interim Wilanne Daniels met with Chief Birge this morning. This just isn’t our area, there are shortages statewide, in fire rescue, corrections and every area. At the end of the day we have to come up with a way to handle the shortages and I guess at the end of the day we have to come up with those solutions.”
Hollis said, “I think safety, and forgive me for saying this, but it far exceeds sidewalks and everything else the way I see it, and I just thought I’d throw that out there.”
Hollis left the podium to a round of applause from the numerous fire rescue personnel and citizens in the audience.
Patrick Kane with Jackson County Fire Rescue addressed the Board, “The real problem, the only way to fix this problem is staffing, that is the big issue. We are not getting to go home, everybody’s got family, everybody’s got kids, we are being overworked. It’s not even so much about the pay raise, nobody is sleeping in the streets, nobody is starving. It’s staffing. We cannot attract new people with what we are being paid. That’s the bottom line. Wish there was a fix but there’s not, this has gone on for so long. This started out a little drip in the roof, you see it and now it’s a giant hole and it’s going to cost money. Every county around us is paying at least two dollars more an hour on a 40-hours work week. I don’t believe most of you understand that, we don’t get paid on a 40-hour work week, we get paid on a 56. So, at $10 an hour on a 40-hour work week versus a 56-hour work week at $10 an hour, you can do the math. Everywhere around us makes at least two dollars an hour more. Everybody at fire rescue drives at least 30 to 40 minutes, everybody can take a right or left out of their driveway and make at least two dollars an hour more. I don’t want to tell you that to say hey do something or we are all leaving. We are here because we don’t want to leave. The ones who have left have left because they have been forced out. We can’t blame them. We are losing guys who have been here 15 years and he can’t do it anymore. When you go to work and we are very busy, we are not sleeping, we are not sitting at the firehouse playing checkers, we are working. We are taking care of these citizens. We wake up in the morning to go to work, knowing we are probably not going to get to go home tomorrow. The only way you can take time off is to call in sick so what happens someone calls in sick because they’ve got kids to go take care of, family to take care of, something to do, somebody else doesn’t get to go home. I appreciate you wanting to meet with us, that is all that we want is a chance to sit down and talk with you one on one. We understand the chief has been up here but we also understand that his hands get tied. We’ve gotten together, it’s not a union thing, it’s an employee thing. We want to be here. We don’t want to leave, we want to be here. We thank you for meeting with us and I thank you for your time.”
The Board of Commissioners scheduled a meeting with fire rescue for Friday (March 30) at 1 p.m. in the county commission board room.