Weaverville – Last week the Tribune published an article about the loss of personnel from the Weaverville Fire Department. From the rank-and-file firefighters, all the way up to the fire chief, are leaving the department. The entire exodus started last May with the firing of Weaverville Firefighter Austin McKinney over a social media post on a firefighters’ union Instagram account about pay.
Since then, a total of 11 personnel have left the department. The latest exiters are Weaverville Fire Chief Ted Williams and Assistant Fire Chief Jason Harwood, leaving at the end of May. According to what the Tribune has uncovered, it all points to pay. The difference in a couple of dollars per hour and, according to rumors, the town is looking to up the minimum hourly wage to $17 and change, but not for firefighters. I don’t know how accurate that might be. If it is, I’d look for more firefighters calling it quits if they are not already considering it.
Someone observed that firefighters get paid to eat, sleep, sit around and basically spend 24 hours at the station. One must keep in mind that they also regularly train, exercise to stay fit and are on call those 24 hours to put their lives on the line for the public’s safety and the public’s property. More than an average of five calls are run out of the station each day.
Supposedly, the least full-time firefighter gets paid $46,500 at the Weaverville Station. That’s a good salary, but does it make up for the extra missed family time? Does it make up for the life-threatening danger the firefighters put themselves into? Does it make up for the higher risk of some cancers that this job is known to expose crews to?
Sure a lot of people think $47,000 in annual salary is good money, but focus less on what is required to get it? Three or four days a week, where you leave your family for 24 hours invariably missing important events: kid’s ballgames, family time and a social life in general. When you know that there are trainees, who have nowhere the certification you do, just 20 minutes down the road making over $50,000 for the same amount of time, how can that not deplete morale and pride for a job that requires so much risk? Where is the incentive to get your credentials when you don’t need it? The message is disheartening: remain a effectively a trainee by just nabbing more cash down the road at a different station.
The Tribune found out there are members of the council who are against allotting more money for the fire department employees. At what price are they willing to hold that position? A suggestion of reducing the number of firefighters is one solution I’ve heard. And using those freed salaries to give the remaining firefighters a raise.
I am not here to tell anyone what the solution to this problem might be. I will say, just a few years ago, this department celebrated a century of service to the community, starting from a group of volunteers and growing to a paid department with some of the latest and greatest equipment. It was a fire station second to none. What would be a shame is to have such a rich history and excellent machinery resources with an inexperienced crew to man it.
Someone needs to figure out a solution soon, restoring Weaverville’s Fire Department’s history and heritage.