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Paramedics told not to fight blazes

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Wilmer Fire Department personnel threaten to quit
The Ellis County Press

WILMER - Wilmer EMS were ordered July 23 to discontinue helping volunteer firefighters battle blazes.

Wilmer City Administrator Thom Lauer said a letter was sent out informing paid EMS personnel, due to a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, they could not volunteer to fight fires.

The city discovered it had violated the federal labor laws when the city's paid EMTs, some of whom are certified as firefighters, have assisted the volunteer fire department in the fighting of blazes.

He said he does not have a problem paying paramedic personnel to fight the fires, but then the city would be in violation of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, a regulatory agency for Texas firefighters.

Lauer said the TCFP guidelines only allow for paid certified firefighters to fight fires. TCFP also required the city and paid firefighters to join with the state agency.

Frustrated, some fire department personnel had threatened to quit.

'Right now they are holding on until we can get this fixed,' Interim Wilmer Volunteer Fire Chief Dean Rolison said.

'Once they saw my hands were tied, they got off my back and started helping me,' Lauer said on how the paid fire department employees responded once they found out why they could not help the fire department fight fires.

Before paid EMS or paramedic personnel can assist the Wilmer Volunteer Fire Department fight fires, the city must pay for the employees' membership fees to join state regulatory agencies.

The United States Department of Labor controls the hours, pay rate, overtime and record keeping requirements employers

must abide by.

'You can not volunteer for an employer to do work-related work that you are paid to do other times during the week,' Lauer said.

'(If they fought the fires) I would have to pay them for overtime or compensation.'

Lauer said he would like to see the city join the agency, but he is unsure if the city can really afford to bring the equipment up to a higher standard than Wilmer is currently used to.

'They (TCFP) inspect the equipment and we want to see if we can get the things up to date,' Lauer said.

As of last week, Rolison said the city said it would be paying for six certified EMS employees' membership fees of $21 each to join the Texas Commission on Fire Protection.

Eleven volunteer firefighters will join the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas, after the $20 membership fee per firefighter is paid by the city, he said.

Lauer said no one has been fired over the incident and only one person left on good standing to accept a better-paying job from the Red Oak Fire Department.

'We're actually sitting better now (than in years past concerning the number of firefighters to protect the city),' Lauer said.

A lawsuit was filed in December against the City of Wilmer by the FLSA, based on previous complaints from former fire fighters.

The case is currently being moved from state to federal court.

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