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Bloomington union leader says city struggles to retain firefighters

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — A union leader is speaking out after what he says is a max exodus of firefighters leaving the Bloomington Fire Department for higher-paying jobs.

Shaun Huttenlocker, who represents the Bloomington Metropolitan Professional Firefighters Local 586, said, “In the last two years, we’ve lost 250 years of experience.”

Huttenlocker said the average pay for Bloomington firefighters is $56,832 per year. The union studied other departments and found firefighters can make from $15,000-$20,000 more per year by jumping to departments in Carmel and Indianapolis, and Marion County’s Wayne and Pike township fire departments.

A fully staffed Bloomington Fire Department would have 102 firefighters; currently, 82 are on staff.

Huttenlocker also worries about burnout. “There is a lot of data and facts that show that working multiple shifts in a row do create a serious risk for us and, obviously, if were at-risk, on scene at a fire, anyone who is involved in that fire would be at-risk as well.”

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton gave firefighters a 3% bonus on top of a 2% bonus already budgeted this year. Huttenlocker said, “A lot of firefighters will receive somewhere in the ball park of about $1,600. We did let him know after that we have people leaving for departments making (from) $15,000-$25,000 more per year.”

Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore said giving larger raises and taking care of retiring firefighters means more money needs to be budgeted. “Our last contract raised our pension base by almost $9,000, which made it easier for retirees to be able to afford to retire.”

To deal with staffing shortages, the department is parking smaller fire apparatus and consolidating crews, and response times will not be affected, Moore said. “I can guarantee we will be there. We have not missed any calls. We have not had any disruption of service we also have aid agreements if we need it.”

Moore said 150 people applied for firefighter positions. Successful candidates who are certified could be on the job this summer.

The fire chief also said no additional raises will be given for firefighters until 2024.