Volunteer firefighters sacrifice much of their free time in service and protection of their community, as well as in training and educational sessions aimed at improving response to emergency situations. The same statement was shared by Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell of his volunteer staff during a City of Dickinson work session, where he pushed for the fire department to move away from volunteers and toward changing the system from volunteer to part-time.
During Tuesday’s work session, the Dickinson City Commission convened to hear from Presnell and how the fire department seeks to implement the suggested changes by Jan. 1, 2022.
“Our current volunteer program kind of functions under a constitution of bylaws that has been adopted by the commission and that are actually part of the City Code,” Presnell said. “There’s a lot of antiquated hiring practices within that constitution of bylaws, like voting for membership, voting on officers. It’s kind of frowned upon nowadays, just because it’s so hard… to prove that discrimination didn’t happen if somebody didn’t get on the department. So we’re looking at completely abolishing the constitution of bylaws and the volunteer fire department and just moving all those firefighters over to part-time employees where they just fall under all the other city policies and procedures.”
One of the bigger drivers for this change is that it would help the fire department down the road with new hires, Presnell said.
“In the long run, we feel that changing their title to part-time firefighter will help in our recruitment efforts because it more accurately reflects the position and job duties and that they are being paid whereas volunteer implies that there is no compensation,” he said.
Mayor Scott Decker asked what sort of financial impacts this change would bring about.
“There is going to be a small financial impact. For the most part, they’re already currently being paid for every hour they work for us, except for one exception is night duty (where) they’re paid a stipend. So that is where we’ll actually see a slight increase but we did plan for that in our budget request for next year,” Presnell said. “We don’t have an exact number just because of the fluctuation in our volunteer numbers.”
Decker also questioned whether the city has to acquire any additional insurance for this move, to which Presnell noted that the city will not be required to do that. Currently, volunteer firefighters are covered under the fire department’s insurance plan and are limited to a 20-hour average week.
“... Just the way that night duties are, they really only pull one a month. So it shouldn’t really impact us in terms of meeting that 20-hour maximum,” Presnell said, adding that he’s trying to make sure all of DFD’s personnel are pulling their night duties.
The idea of abolishing the volunteer fire department has been in the works for more than a year, Presnell continued.
“It’s more favorable for the part-time side because they honestly will feel like they’re a bigger part of the city in terms of being... an employee (for) the city when they’re part-time as opposed to a volunteer. I don’t know that it happened anytime recently, but in the past they felt a little bit of separation. So it seems like for the most part it’s favorable,” he said.
Though volunteer numbers fluctuate, DFD currently has 21 volunteers.
“We’ve set a pretty high standard and we do want to hold everybody to that standard. I don’t think we’re going to have a problem there because we do have a pretty dedicated volunteer group,” he said. “But yes, if somebody did not meet those standards, they’re going to be subject to performance evaluations annually, just like our full-time staff and held to that same standard.”
Looking ahead, this personnel change will be brought before the volunteer group where they’ll vote on it. From there, the fire department will bring it before the Dickinson City Commission to vote on for approval.