Reported by Alan Frio
Jim Copus is a six-year veteran firefighter-emergency medical technician for Wilson County's Emergency Management Agency. He recently topped out on the pay scale at $10.19 an hour.
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"That's as far as I'll go, unless I advance to lieutenant or paramedic. An assistant manager at McDonald's is making more an hour," said Copus.
Copus has a wife and two children to support. At the end of a pay period, there is not much breathing room.
"That's my job to provide for my family. Not to be able to do that is a struggle, and it's disheartening. I wind up with about $30 extra per paycheck; there is no room for error," said Copus.
Higher pay in neighboring counties has led a number of firefighters to leave WEMA. The starting salary for firefighters in Nashville is $16 an hour, topping out at $21.
"I know there were a lot of people from Wilson County who applied in Nashville," said Copus.
It's not only a problem for firefighters, but also for Wilson County residents who depend on WEMA for fire protection. When firefighters leave, it places a bigger burden on those who are left.
"OSHA dictates four people on an initial responding engine. We have never had four that I know of. If there is a fire and someone is trapped in the house, we can't go in by law. I'm not saying we won't go in," said Copus.
WEMA director John Jewell told Channel 4 News some stations were designed to staff only two firefighters. As far as the other fire stations in the county configured for four personnel, every employee would have to be on the job to be staffed properly.
"If everyone is here, then you will have four in the station. If we have someone call in sick, or vacations, continuing education, whatever issue there might be, that station will start to suffer," said Jewell.
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