Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory firefighters have unionized

Warsaw Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 5461 receives its charter from Tony Murray, president, Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana, on behalf of International Association of Fire Fighters. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
By David Slone

WARSAW — Looking to help the community more, Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory fire fighters have unionized.

Friday afternoon, Warsaw Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 5461 was presented with their International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, CLC, charter from Tony Murray, president, Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana.

Warsaw firefighter Max Kinsey, who is serving as the president of Local 5461, said they’ve been a union for about a month.

“We were looking for ways to kind of supplement the help that we as fire fighters can bring to the community. There’s a lot of things we can’t do, but through the union we can offer classes to the community, we can start scholarships, we can start helping charities. It’s just a way of bringing us together so that we can turn around and help our community a little bit better,” Kinsey explained.

The local union is similar to organizations like the United Auto Workers in that “we are collectively together, it brings us together, but we’re very different in ways that it’s more for outreach on our end. We’re looking to help more. We’re looking to bring more to the community. Also, in the same sense, though, to have a seat at the table with our mayor and our elected officials — that way we can help them and they can help us,” Kinsey said.

As for things like the fire fighters’ salaries and benefits, he said those things still have to go through city — the mayor and city council.

“We’re not looking for that right now, maybe in the future we can collectively speak with them and have that conversation, but as of right now, no, we’re just looking to get our help out to the community,” Kinsey said.

Joining the union was a choice for each fire fighter. Kinsey said 32 of 40 firefighters chose to be in the union. “Eight chose not to be in it, and we still work with them, we still work really well. There’s no animosity there,” he said.

Along with Kinsey as president, Drew Shilling serves as vice president, Tyler Colt is the trustee, Zach Rumsyre is the secretary and Jason Neher and Jeremy Williams are the two trustees. 

The union will meet once a month to talk about business, and have only had one meeting so far. “But we’ve already talked about how to start some scholarships, and we’ve already talked about what charities we’re looking to help out and just how to collect our union dues so we can then turn around and help the community,” Kinsey said.

If anyone has any questions, Kinsey said people can contact any of the union members or him. Warsaw Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 5461 does have a Facebook page.

Kinsey thanked United Steelworkers Local 809 for letting Local 5461 use their building and helping them to get off the ground. “They’ve been very helpful. They understand what we’re trying to do with our outreach back to the community, so they’re helping us get started,” he said.

Unionizing will help the fire fighters, according to Williams, because, “In the long run, it’s the solidarity of all the guys getting together. We have that backing of the state union and federal union. They do a lot of stuff at the state level as far as legislation and the laws and all of that kind of stuff … that’s huge. And there’s a lot that goes on in the back that we don’t have, we didn’t know about, we didn’t have control of before and now we can move forward with that.”

Williams said unionizing has been talked about for a while. He’s been with the department for almost 18 years, and about 10 years ago the ball started rolling for it but then it fizzled out. “This is the first time we’ve had this group of guys and everybody’s on board – 32 out of 40, pretty good numbers,” he said.

He’s looking forward to the golf outings and the creation of scholarships and just being more involved with the public as far as Local 5461. Williams said the creation of scholarships were the “big” one for him and what he wanted to be a part of going forward.
Neher said he liked that unionizing will bring the group of guys together to do events in the community, like sponsoring sports teams, Toys For Tots and more.

“The guys were all in and they’ve been all in since the beginning. It’s only been a few months,” he said.

A fire department has to be a career department to be in the union. Neher said Syracuse’s fire department already is in the union.

Before presenting the charter to Local 5461, Murray – who was joined by Region 1 Trustee Larry Tillman and District 1 Vice President Jon Parkhouse – said Warsaw is part of District 1 and there are six districts in Indiana.

“I think this is a great time to acknowledge and celebrate the Warsaw Professional Fire Fighters – now, one of the newest locals of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 5461. These are 32 men and women who have taken time to talk about their future and what’s important and being part of an organization that is bigger than themselves,” Murray said.

He congratulated them for taking the steps to become a union. “I know that this has probably been discussed for over two decades. Every once in a while, talking about should there be a relationship with the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana. And the time has come, and I know that we’ve had a lot of thoughtful conversations about the path to organize,” he said.

“So, tonight, as we present on behalf of over 344,000 fire and emergency workers across two countries – United States and Canada – the International Association of Fire Fighters welcomes you as one of the newest local charters to be formed; and the Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana, you join 8,500 of our members, 90 locals across the state of Indiana, representing about 115 fire departments. We welcome you into this organization and are very proud of you because this is the next step in professionalizing our profession,” Murray said.

He said the union does a lot of work down at the Statehouse with lawmakers, policymakers and state government to advance the profession of the fire service in Indiana. “We also do that on your behalf now as the newest local. We do that in Congress, and in D.C.,” Murray said. “… When you organize, you’re investing not only in your career and your profession, but you’re also investing in your family.”

In an interview after the presentation, Murray explained what it takes for a fire department to be a part of the union. 

“Unlike the private sector, in the public sector in public safety, it is an option to be a part of the organized labor group, and most fire fighters and EMS workers that are part of public employees are part of the International Association of Fire Fighters,” he said. “So, one, we represent only full-time and career departments, so our membership encompasses fire fighters, paramedics, EMTs and, in some places, 911 dispatchers.”

Fire fighters do not have the right to negotiate a contract that deals with wages, benefits and working conditions, he explained. “However, there is a state law that allows for fire fighters to have a seat at the table to talk to the decisionmakers in the community about wages, benefits, working conditions, safety issues. I think that’s a major benefit to have conversations with the people that decide on decisions for the department for the community. To discuss safety issues. How they can better serve the citizens of Warsaw,” he said.

The exciting part for Warsaw, he said, is that “this is a profession, these are career fire fighters that protect the people of Warsaw, and there’s no better place to expand the profession than to become a part of an association that represents the profession of fire fighters and EMS workers, so that’s why we’re excited to expand that and create another group of 32 — that’s a big local.”