HALES CORNERS -- Low pay for Hales Corners firefighters is leading to high turnover, according to the village's fire chief who equates his staff as a farm system. Now, public safety is being called into question.
Nearly 90-percent of the Hales Corners Fire Department's is part-time. Their base-pay starts at $11.25 an hour.
The fire chief exposed the issue to TODAY'S TMJ4 saying many of them leave right when another position opens up nearby. The problem may not be on many residents' radar. Anne Liedel was shocked to hear about their starting wages.
"They put their lives on the line for us and they definitely should make more than that," said Liedel.
While Liedel considers $11.25 unlivable, Village president Dan Besson calls it an opportunity for paid training.
"It's fair to pay someone who has no experience whatsoever $11 an hour," Besson said.
To put the pay into perspective, It's not far off from starting wages at McDonald's ($10 hr) and Walmart ($10.50 hr); and it's less than Target ($12 hr).
On the high end, the town of Brookfield pays its part-time firefighters more than $19 dollars an hour. Pewaukee is right up there at $18.
"The part-time, we use the part-time, and you can't blame the staff when they get wonderful opportunities on a full-time basis," said Hales Corners Fire and Police Commission president Tom Sobocinski.
Sobocinski calls it an inevitable problem based on how reliant the department is on part-time employees. Right now, the fire chief said they're ten short.
"What has been happening persistently is yes, we train great, great staff, but it's the full-time opportunities that really pull our people away from us," Sobocinski said.
Unlike Bessen, Sobocinski believes their starting wages need to be more competitive.
"Somewhere in the middle, I don't think we'll be at the bottom, but very competitive for a village of our size," he said.
Hales Corners village leaders said their budget for next year should be set by sometime next month. They plan to discuss raising firefighters' starting wages.