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Wabash Fire Dept. Won’t Respond To Dispatch Calls Until Trustee Agrees To Keep Paid Firefighters

Ben Thorp
Wabash Township board president Angel Valentin attempted to place Trustee Jennifer Teising under oath during Tuesday's meeting, a move the township's legal counsel questioned.

The Wabash Township Fire Department Association announced at a board meeting Tuesday that they will not be responding to dispatch calls until Wabash Township Trustee Jennifer Teising agrees to keep the fire department's three paid staff employed. 

Tuesday was the paid firefighters’ final day, after a Tippecanoe County judge declined to grant the association an injunction to keep them employed. In his ruling, Judge Sean Persin said he was “deeply concerned” about the safety of the public associated with terminating the paid firefighters. 

But, Judge Persin said, the association did not have standing to bring the case. 

The trustee has maintained that the township doesn’t have funding to keep paid firefighters on staff. The township board and fire department association argue the township has funds to keep firefighters on at least through the end of the year, which would give them time to come up with a more sustainable budget workaround. 

According to fire department officials there are about 18 volunteer firefighters with the department, too few to manage the three to four calls the department responds to every day. And the township board alleges the department has lost volunteers because of the work environment created by Teising. 

Michael Dwyer, president of the Wabash Township Fire Department Association, said he lives in the township and it’s a scary step to take.

“The members of the township association sat down and talked about the options we have,” he said. “We don’t have any.”

Dwyer said the association won’t respond to calls for as long as they see fit. 

“This isn’t a decision we want to make,” he said. "After we took the vote I felt like I was going to throw up.”

Dwyer said the hope is that their action will bring Teising back to the negotiating table and force her to keep the three paid firefighters employed. But, he acknowledged, it’s not clear if it will work. 

“Honestly I don’t,” he said. “Anything you think a logical and rational person would do, she doesn’t.”

After the meeting, Teising declined to say if the association’s action would bring her to the table. But, she said, an ambush at a board meeting is no way to communicate. 

“I’m certainly not going to negotiate by threats in a public meeting without legal representation,” she said. “The firefighters association has chosen to move this down a legal path so therefore I’m going to have to let legal counsel guide the township.”

And, Teising said, she doesn’t understand the association’s position. 

“The fire department isn’t safe because we don’t have three people so none of us are going to show up? I don’t understand how this assists our township and helps the community,” she said.

If there is no response to a dispatch call from the Wabash Fire Department, Teising said agency partners in the area will have to respond. 

“Wow,” said West Lafayette Mayor Dennis when asked for comment on the association’s announcement. And then added: “We’ll still provide coverage as needed.”