The City of La Vista is set to start paying some firefighters beginning Oct. 1 during a transition to contracting with the Papillion Fire Department to handle fire and rescue calls.
The interim part-time paid fire department will operate during the 2013-14 fiscal year until April 1, at which point career firefighters from Papillion will begin responding to calls under an interlocal agreement.
La Vista has already entered the agreement with the City of Papillion and Papillion Rural Fire Protection District, but the interim system will help address staffing shortfalls until the permanent solution is implemented.
Fire Chief Rich Uhl, in a prepared statement provided by city spokesman Mitch Beaumont, said the paid firefighters will earn $10 per hour, while two assistant chiefs will each receive an additional $1,000 per month to perform the clerical work to support the changes.
The City of La Vista has budgeted $199,800 to pay firefighters during the transition period. Four firefighters will be assigned to each eight-hour shift, with three shifts each day.
These paid shifts will completely replace the city’s unpaid volunteers, Uhl said in the prepared remarks. But current volunteers are eligible to sign-up for those shifts.
To supplement the volunteers’ ranks, additional part-time firefighters will be hired by the city, Beaumont said. Application information for those new positions will be made available soon, he said.
Unlike the process Papillion went through to hire firefighters, La Vista will not use a civil service procedure because state law does not require it for part-time positions.
In addition to being paid for shifts, firefighters will be paid if they respond when they are not scheduled because an incident requires additional manpower. If additional manpower isn’t needed, the city will pay the responding firefighters $5 — a half-hour’s wage.
Both La Vista fire stations will be utilized during this period, Beaumont said. Additionally, district and assistant chiefs will continue to be paid a monthly vehicle allowance.
The transition to a part-time paid department was needed because initially Papillion was slated to take over fire and rescue calls on Oct. 1, but that was later pushed to April 1.
Many volunteer firefighters had already made plans based on that timetable, Uhl said in the prepared remarks.
“This program is designed to be an incentive to encourage them to stay and serve through this transition time,” Uhl said. “The volunteers the city has lost this year haven’t been replaced, so the need to hold on to the people we have for this transition period is important in our effort to continue to provide the best emergency services possible.”
Papillion has yet to make a hiring decision, and it’s unknown how many La Vista volunteers might be hired through Papillion’s civil service process.
Some volunteers might also leave for other departments, such as the Ralston Volunteer Fire Department, which has publicly expressed an interest in recruiting the former La Vista volunteers.
Moving to a paid fire department was determined to be necessary by La Vista city officials after the recruitment for the volunteer department failed to keep up to pace with the growth in fire and rescue calls in the jurisdiction.
The eventual result won’t be a merger but rather an expansion of Papillion’s existing fire department. The fire stations and equipment will be owned by both cities and the rural fire district through an arraignment detailed in the interlocal agreement.
La Vista is in the process of preparing its facilities for the handover, including installing a fire alarm for the District 1 Fire Station, which was identified as a prerequisite for Papillion taking control of the station in the spring.
The La Vista City Council, at its Aug. 20 meeting, also approved an amendment to the city code permitting the city to enter an interlocal agreement for the city’s fire department and ambulance service.