Last month, during my campaign for the At Large City Council seat, I met a young firefighter who came to my booth at Octoberfest and told me that the firefighters were not making enough money. We had a conversation about his job and his quality of life. I was appalled. And, I started to do some homework to look at the issue with new eyes while it is being overlooked by our City Council.
I visited three fire halls and spoke to firefighters there. I am appalled and I am angry about what I discovered. Our Gallatin firemen are grossly underpaid – less than an hourly Gap warehouse worker. Additionally, some are using out-of-date turnout gear, waiting for the City to fund the replacement gear.
I learned that two studies were conducted to compare our Gallatin Fire Department with other middle Tennessee fire departments. Both studies found that our Gallatin firefighters are paid 30% less than the average middle state firefighter. I was told these studies were quickly dismissed by high level city officials because they did not like the results. I was told that our fire department is known as the "training fire department," because they train here, work here for a year or so and then leave for a higher paying department nearby.
This needs to change. Our fire and police services are two of the most important services provided by the city. We are understaffed because we don't pay enough and have a hard time keeping our firemen. They need to have second jobs just to survive, because the City of Gallatin significantly underpays them. We need to immediately bump up our first responder's pay to be comparable to the rest of middle Tennessee. This is wrong, and I am angry that we can't even take care of our first responders by providing them proper gear and paying them a living wage.
My opponent keeps talking about how the city is in fantastic financial shape. Well, if everything is so perfect and wonderful, then why aren't we paying our firefighters a living wage? Why can't we keep our firefighters? Why do they keep leaving for more pay in different cities? Why is this not a priority to our current Council? Do they not know this? How can they not know this?
Whether I get elected or not, I will make it my mission in the next year to make sure I do whatever I can to focus on one of the most important emergency services that is the city's job to provide, our fire department. How did this happen that it is so drastically underfunded? How is Gallatin The Nicest Place in America, but our firemen need to have a second job just to be able to pay their bills? On their days off, they should be resting. On their days off, they should be spending time with their family, and not have to sacrifice that time to go to a second job.