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Jasper firefighters beg city council for change

WBRC Jasper fire department understaffed
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 7:30 PM CDT
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JASPER, Ala. (WBRC) - Underpaid, overworked and now dealing with dangerous conditions due to staffing challenges, many Jasper firefighters are fed up. Several are now taking their complaints to city leaders. The issue dominated the public comments portion of Tuesday’s city council meeting.

It was a charged atmosphere. Families are frustrated because they feel their loved one’s lives are not being valued by the city. Several family members and even some firefighters voiced their concerns to city leaders. All of them asked for change.

“If y’all don’t do something about retaining these guys, someone is going to get hurt or killed. It almost happened,” said one firefighter.

A fire last Wednesday almost led to two of Jasper’s finest falling in the line of duty.

Some are now pointing to the fact that the department is only 66% staffed as the reason.

“When’s the last time the station was fully staffed?” asked one community member.

“It has been years,” the chief responded.

The city recently changed how the firefighters were able to spend holiday time, and that’s when Fire Chief Dante Fields says he warned the council that staffing could become a larger issue.

“Back in October when we made the change with the holiday system, I stood up and actually begged, I literally begged, I said I beg you not to do this because it was the only recruitment tool that we had considering the pay,” said Chief Fields.

The money, or lack there of, is another issue that several in Jasper believe is hurting the department. The entry level wages are not enough to get new recruits, and once they gain experience some are leaving for opportunities that pay better.

“The least this city can do if you’re going to ask them to risk their live is at least pay them as much as Sumiton. Entry level at Sumiton is $43,000. Entry level here is $33,000,” said one frustrated parent.

Many just hope to raise awareness on the issues, but some want the community to step up and pressure city leaders to make some changes.

“If you got friends and neighbors who are not here today and they’re not watching on that television right there. Call them and explain to them how we get paid.”

The city council authorized the mayor to pay a consultant to study city employee positions and salary information in hopes of establishing competitive pay levels. That study is slated to occur through the summer.

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