Firefighters Axed

Friday, January 13, 2012 - 2:56pm

Tiny town struggles to keep its full-time fire and rescue team.

Eatonville is a tiny Washington town with just less than 3,000 residents.

Lately, it's sense of security has been shaken.

The park ranger killed on Mt. Rainier lived in Eatonville.

Now with another fire chief getting the ax, people are worried about the fate of their beloved fire department.

Eatonville is one of the smallest communities in Washington to run its own full time fire department with six paid positions including four paramedics trained in advance life support.

With the nearest hospital a half hour away, having paramedics on duty can make all the difference in the case of a heart attack or stroke.

The fire department's average response time is just four minutes.

Rose Law credits that statistic with saving her husband's life.

"My husband has a heart attack year and a half ago...and that was very important to get them like that...and I mean they did come," said Law.

The fire department costs nearly $750,000 a year to run and the city's in a budget crunch.

The mayor's convinced firefighters to take a three percent pay cut, and three months ago he fired the fire chief, moving Assistant Chief Dexter Habeck into the job without giving him a raise.

"Yesterday afternoon...I was called into town administrators office and he told me I was being let go to please clear out all my stuff," said Habeck.

The mayor says he needs a fire chief willing to reel in costs and that wasn't Habeck.

The mayor's actions have people inside and outside of the fire department wondering whether they'll soon have to rely on neighboring departments to handle their medical emergencies.

"If you don't have somebody who can respond in Eatonville, gonna have to wait a half hour for someone to come from further away," said Eatonville resident Aaron Boeckel.

Eatonville Fire Department used to be all volunteer relying on South Pierce County for paramedics.

Three years ago, they set up their own full service department.

The chief who put that in place is the one who got axed in September.

Now his successor's been fired too, just as he was making upgrades to training and equipment.

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