By Deb Patterson of www.inkfreenews.com
NORTH WEBSTER, INDIANA — As of 3 p.m. today close to one-half of the 48 North Webster/Tippecanoe Township Fire and EMS personnel had walked out. This includes volunteer, part-time and full-time employees.
More are expected this evening. Those who have walked out thus far have a combined 210 years of firefighting experience.
At this time fire departments from Pierceton, Warsaw, Syracuse have been placed on standby for any fire calls in the Tippecanoe Township area. Lutheran EMS will be handling any ambulance calls. It was reported that there will be no one on EMS duty Friday morning at North Webster.
Individuals who were with the department stated in case of a fire call the closest fire department will respond.
“At this point in time, from the township advisory board side of it, we are conducting an investigation as to what occurred and are researching our options,” said Chris Frances, advisory board member, as spokesman for additional board members, Steve Carson and Richard Owen. “It’s a travesty.”
There are conflicting reports as to why the walk out has occurred.
Individuals, with knowledge of the situation, reported that Township Trustee Steve Ward has been making out the schedule for full time personnel, making sure at least four individuals, including his son-in-law, work the shifts they desire. The reason is said so that a babysitter does not need to be hired and weekends are free.
Reports that department volunteers came to the Tippecanoe Township Advisory board meeting on Tuesday evening asking the advisory board about the schedule making. It was reported Ward was told to back down, the responsibility of the trustee and the advisory board was to provide financial backing for equipment and supplies, not to micromanage the department. The scheduling is up to the fire chief and EMS operations chief.
It was also reported a “secret meeting” was held Wednesday evening between Ward and four individuals on the department and spouses discussing the issue further. It was stated if the guys wanted to quit they could and Ward would schedule it the way he wanted it done and would get his own medical director.
A number of members of the community are concerned as many of the firefighters have given their lives to the department and protecting and serving the residents in the town and township. “This is our town,” said one individual who wished to remain anonymous.
Trustee Tells Different Story
Ward was contacted by phone for comment on the situation. “Ever since we moved the full time people to the house, it has been contentious” he stated. “That move (having volunteers and full time members together) has caused animosity between the full time and volunteers, a lot of it.”
He stated the advisory board left it up in the air. “They don’t have the authority to say the guys can make their own schedule,” Ward said.
A meeting allegedly took place between fire officials and EMS about having set work days, which he said was not a problem.
“There isn’t any,” said Ward regarding the accusations of nepotism. He stated the fact his son-in-law has been a member of the department for over five years and he is grandfathered in.
“A lot (of the firefighters) have been there for 20 years. We’re trying to make it fair … protect our people here and try to take care of them, take care of people who have give a … and take care of them.”
“We will come out strong,” Ward said noting there is good leadership at the fire department with Jeremy Likens. “We are still responding with the EMS. On the fire side we will get it worked out.”
Attempts to get a copy of the minutes from Tuesday’s advisory board meeting have initially been unsuccessful.