SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — Cause for alarm. The Sedgwick County Firefighters Union said if the staff shortage gets worse, they might have to shut down a station. The union president wants staff to get a bump in pay to address the issue.
In 2016 previous Sedgwick County Commissioners voted to take away bargaining power from the Sedgwick County Firefighters Union. Now the president of the union is asking for that power back. He said call volume is up, but staffing is not.
“Over the last few years, we’ve had people leave here and there. In the last few months, we’ve really had people voice their concerns and say they can no longer financially stay with this department,” said Casey Ingalls, the president of the Sedgwick County Firefighters Union Local 2612.
Ingalls said the department has lost 29 firefighters since 2015. He said pay is partly to blame. Staff received a 4 percent raise in January, but he said it wasn’t enough.
“It’s been, even before 2016, since we have seen a raise like that. It might be 2013, around that time frame. So, that 4%, more or less, it kind of held us in check with the cost of living,” said Ingalls.
The starting rate is more than $14 an hour. A Wichita Fire Recruit makes more than $19 an hour and a starting pay of more than $15 an hour. Ingalls said the union needs to be brought to the table.
“That bargaining chip is important because we are able to negotiate contracts that provide a future for our firefighters. They provide a sense of security. They take care of the people that work for the fire district,” said Ingalls.
The chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission said pay raises for firefighters are already underway.
“They have benefits that other employees do not have. So right now, they are not an organization that we negotiate with. We do with the fire department exactly what we do with every department. We work with the leadership to figure out what the perfect plan is,” said David Dennis, the chairman of the Sedgwick County Commission.
County commissioners are talking about a pay raise during this budget season and a clear map of promotions. At least two commissioners are open to reinstating bargaining with the union.