Escambia County Firefighting Union president states department is in dire need of funding
ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WEAR-TV) —
"It seems like until it's an emergency, until it's a crisis, until four kids die in a house fire then we'll decide to fix a problem. We're sick and tired of it,” said Nick Gradia, the president for the Escambia County firefighters union.
Thursday night he addressed the county commission, telling them the department needs more funding immediately.
About thirty firefighters joined him in the crowd.
Gradia said the revenue from the county’s fire tax is not cutting it.
"The budget is not self-sustaining. We're essentially eating ourselves from within and it's a very large-scale problem that needs to be addressed,” said Gradia.
Two weeks ago Gradia sent a letter to the commission breaking down the problems.
"No answers. Nothingand this isn't the first time you guys have heard from me either,” he said at the podium Thursday.
He claims the department has trouble recruiting and keeping full-time professional firefighters because they can’t offer competitive salaries.
Gradia said that’s already hurting their quality of service.
"We can't compete with their pay or their benefits. People are coming up here and as life happens they realize they need to be able to provide for myself, my family and my future and I simply can't do that in Escambia County,” he said.
We asked Escambia County officials to break down the number of paid fire department employees since 2015, from administrators to firefighters.
From 2015 to 2016 they had 184 employees.
From 2016 to now, there have been 208 employees each year.
Gradia said these numbers are misleading.
Gradia explained, "That's not really an accurate description of what the fire department is. We're at about 150 full-time personnel. We currently have vacancies we struggle to fill."
"I can tell you speaking from myself we are all very concerned about our public safety employees so those issues will be addressed,” Commission Chair Lumon May responded.
Gradia is asking the commission to raise the county’s fire tax.
Right now it’s unclear if that will happen.
“Are you willing to take action?” Gradia asked the commission at Thursday night’s meeting.
“At this point your three minutes are gone. I apologize,” responded May.