WASATCH COUNTY, Utah — The Wasatch County Fire District plans to change how volunteer firefighters and EMTs are paid during the overnight shift in Wallsburg and Heber.
“The ambulance, the fire trucks are still staying in the station. I’ve heard rumor that we were pulling them out. They’re there, we want to protect the citizens, all the citizens of the county,” Wasatch County Fire Chief Ernie Giles said to FOX 13. “Nobody’s being fired, nobody’s not being taken care of, they’re going to be paid — it’s just going to be by an hourly basis.”
Giles says the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. 'on-call' shift compensates their volunteers with a shift stipend and an hourly wage for calls. Beginning January 1, 2020, roughly 30 volunteer fire/EMS staff will transition from County employees to Fire District employees and will no longer be paid the $180 per-person, per-shift stipend.
“It affects families. I mean it — the amount of money that’s being paid, it affects them. So I wanted to give them a heads up — this isn’t something that just came down the pike last week. I think the very first announcement was in May or June of this year," Giles said. “I think they’ll be reasonably compensated for the time, but it’ll only be for the time when they’re on a call.”
The hourly wage will only be earned when volunteers respond to a call. Residents of Wallsburg are concerned if this will impact response time.
“We depend a lot on the EMT and the fire department here," said Wasatch County resident Linda Young.
Young told FOX 13 that her husband has required emergency response before.
“It was a very serious accident, and a friend of ours called the ambulance, and within five minutes they were at our house... I worry that if that happens, any kind of accident happens, they have to come from Heber," Young said. "We heat [our house] with wood — you know our house would burn down before they [firefighters] would get out here.”
Wallsburg residents will have the opportunity to ask questions and address concerns at a public meeting on Tuesday at the Wallsburg Town Hall beginning at 7 p.m.
Celeni Richins, the Mayor of Wallsburg, is concerned with the potential for those 'optional' overnight calls no longer being answered locally by Wallsburg first responders.
“So then I wonder and I worry that then those optional times might not be — they may or may not answer the calls, and so then we’ll be having people respond from Heber or Midway and the response time will be drastically more than using the station that we have right here," Richins said exclusively to FOX 13.
Richins noted how vital EMTs are. She got her EMT license this past summer.
“EMTs are worried about their pay, other residents are worried that they are not going to get the service that other taxpayers are getting and they deserve," she said.
Giles plans to hire six full-time firefighter/EMTs in 2020 to help off-set the call volume. They will be based out of Heber/Midway and Jordanelle.
“We’re trying to do the best thing for the citizens of the district, and I actually try to protect them the best we can with the money we have," he said.