Massive Walkout At North Webster Fire Department Short-Lived

NORTH WEBSTER – North Webster and Tippecanoe Township’s volunteer fire department and EMS were once again functioning today after more than a dozen of their staff abruptly quit a day earlier over what township Trustee Steve Ward described as a scheduling dispute.

Ward said 12 to 14 personnel verbally quit, but that all but five had returned Friday morning after a meeting Thursday night helped quell concerns.

The department relies on 26 volunteer firemen and 6 EMS employees. The mass walkout prompted a request Thursday by the fire department to have the Kosciusko County dispatch center alert surrounding departments to be on standby in case of an emergency in the town or township. The walkout happened about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Ward said.

As of this morning, Fire Chief Jeremy Likens did not return calls requesting comment on the crisis.

Despite Ward’s assertion that circumstances were normalizing Friday, there was apparently some confusion among departments.

Kosciusko County dispatch center remained on standby shortly before 10 a.m. today because no one from the fire department had rescinded the request, according to Chad Hill, who oversees the dispatch center.  Hill said they were unsure what sparked the walkout.
“We’re kind of caught in the middle and just doing what we’re told,” Hill said.

Ward said Friday morning the department was functioning and ready to go when needed. “We have a full schedule … my fire guys are up and really ready to run,” Ward said. “We’re going to come out of this stronger than ever. I guarantee it.”

Ward said the crisis began with an effort to change the schedule to accommodate some people while possibly squeezing out at least one person in the department.
Thursday night’s meeting at the fire station helped smooth over concerns, Ward said.
Once people understood what was happening, many of those who had walked out began to return, he said.

The five people who still had not returned as of this morning, Ward said, were the “ones who instigated and started this and got the whole rabble rousing going.”
Ward suggested the request to have other departments provide service was unnecessary and suggested the department was capable of providing emergency service.

Hill said Chris Francis, a battalion chief for the department, contacted the county and requested other departments be on standby. Hill said he could not remember a time in his 26 years with the sheriff’s department in which other departments were instructed to provide on-going service for another department for anything other than during a funeral.

The volunteer department covers 36 square miles in the township, according to information on the fire department’s website.