Minnesota EMS Plan Draws Fire From Volunteers

Volunteer firefighters in Maplewood are feeling a new kind of heat. City management has proposed creating six full-time firefighter-paramedic positions, a move that would reduce the need for the trained volunteers who respond to 911 emergency calls.

Plus, Cahill said, "a police officer sitting at an intersection is doing a job, while a firefighter that's not responding to an emergency isn't providing a service at that time."

Thomalla responded that the full-time firefighters would take on responsibilities such as emergency vehicle maintenance and local code enforcement, previously performed by community service police officers. Code enforcement could include ensuring residents' garbage cans are placed properly.

Full-time firefighters also would alleviate the shortage of available volunteers during the daytime hours, when many paid-on-call firefighters are working regular jobs, he said.

Thomalla added that it's been difficult to find qualified police-paramedics. Two police officers the city recently sent to medic school failed the tests, wasting a year's time and wages, and $10,000 in educational costs for each.

The firefighters insist their resistance to the city's plan isn't about money. Although a few depend on the "little bit of income," most join the department to perform a service for Maplewood, Hjelle said.

The City Council must decide on the proposal before the end of the year, and funding for the plan has been included in the city's proposed budget, according to Council Member Will Rossbach.