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Commission discusses high staff turnover

Fire departments struggle

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 5/14/22

During Tuesday night’s Bedford County Board of Commissioners meeting, concerns were raised over staffing issues and high employee turnover across County offices.  

“We do continue …

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Commission discusses high staff turnover

Fire departments struggle

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During Tuesday night’s Bedford County Board of Commissioners meeting, concerns were raised over staffing issues and high employee turnover across County offices.  

“We do continue to experience high employee turnover,” said Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham. “I’ve asked the HR department to put together some numbers for you so you can see that data.”  

According to Graham, the financial management department will also be putting together costs, requests, and what the reset of salaries and pay grades and job descriptions will be like. They have been working on this for about 3 years, and it will be discussed at the June budget hearings, he said.  

Commissioner Greg Vick asked Bedford County Fire Chief Mark Thomas about the turnover rate with emergency responders.  

Thomas, also a commissioner, said he has six people working on shift in the fire department. Two of those are committed to medical emergencies, leaving four for the three trucks.  

“A lot of my employees don’t live in Bedford County. So, I don’t have access to those people when they’re off since a lot of them live 45 minutes away,” Thomas said.  

And with the job market like it is, Thomas added that the volunteer staff is very low. “Pretty much the only ones we can count on are the paid staff. But when we have a big fire, there’s only about four of us for the entire county,” he explained.  

Though they have some 140 volunteers for the County, most of them work jobs that do not enable them to leave and go on-call, so it’s a small staff, especially during the day.  

“What we’re doing to compensate for that is we’re calling in multiple stations in order to get standing level,” Thomas said. For example, if there’s a fire in Unionville, Thomas will get Wartrace, Deason, and Shelbyville to respond in order to get the minimal staffing on the scene.  

“And we have looked at different incentives—do we pay them . . . offer insurance. There are several things being tossed around to help us recruit and hold on to the volunteers,” Thomas said.  

The fire chief said it is an especially inopportune time for such a shortage as more and more people are moving Bedford, keeping emergency personnel busy. Thomas said they just added a Rover station—one which should be opening in a month or two—to expand the area. Thomas said they hope to open Wheel, Liberty and Raus stations once more volunteers are secured.  

Graham said emergency medical service is having difficulty filling staff positions, despite the county’s financial support and efforts toward getting personnel.  

“So, we’re looking closely . . . to see what exactly is going on,” Graham said. “And this is not just a Bedford issue . . . . Public safety has really taken a beating in the public eye and people just aren’t wired like they used to be to be in public safety.”  

Upgrading emergency systems  

Commission also passed on Tuesday the resolution to support upgrading the County’s emergency communications radio system.  

According to Jay Malpass, senior consultant at the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, this system is a “two-way radio system that stretches all across the state to support first responders’ ability to communicate.”  

The state-wide radio system TACN (Tennessee Advanced Communications Network) that all the state agencies and many local agencies use totals to about 40,000 users today. Of that, 27,000 of those are local government-users, he advised.  

Its “interoperability to communicate” with other surrounding counties, with the state, and with outside the state, allows for improved communications and productivity inside the County, Malpass said.  

For example, if one tower shuts down, then the County will still have means to communicate with other sources of emergency personnel.  

The new system will also include continual upgrades, according to Malpass 

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