The Brainerd City Council voted unanimously Monday to lay off its five full-time firefighters and shift to a paid-on-call department.
The 7-to-0 vote came after lengthy debates about whether emergency response times would suffer in the city of 13,000 if there were no longer firefighters staffing the station full-time, in addition to the dozens of paid volunteers who respond to calls.
Eliminating the full-time position and bringing in even more paid-on-call firefighters, supporters argued, would save Brainerd more than $260,000 in the first year, and even more in following years. City officials had estimated they would pay more than $80,000 in unemployment compensation to the five full-time firefighters.
The vote infuriated Chris Parsons, president of the Minnesota Professional Firefighters Association.
"Brainerd just became the first city in years to cut all of its full-time firefighters and go to a paid-on-call response system," he said in a statement. "Not even during the recent recession did we see this. Despite increasing state aid the city decided to cut the legs right out of its emergency response capabilities and slower response times will be the result. The citizens of the Brainerd area should be outraged."
City Council President Gary Scheeler said officials will begin negotiations with the firefighters' union on a compensation package. No date for the final shift to all-paid-on-call firefighters has been set.