Mills officials are claiming that plans to shutter the professional full-time fire department later this year are the result of broken down negotiations with the firefighters' union.

"During the 2019 negotiations, the town asked the firefighters' union to take on other safety-related tasks for the town, and to switch from a 48-hour shift to a 12-hour shift to accomplish this," Mills Mayor Seth Coleman wrote. "The town knew this would not solve the budget issue, but it would help in the town's view."

When the town asked firefighters to switch from 48- to 12-hour shifts, the union claimed the change would be detrimental to firefighters' mental health.

In 2017, the town asked the fire department to reduce its staff to two employees per shift. The union refused and said the fire department needs four people per shift for safety reasons.

The town and union agreed to move to three firefighters per shift under the condition that EMTs and paramedics receive incentive pay.

Currently, Mills firefighters work 48-hour shifts with each shift having a captain and two firefighters. At least one member of each shift is a certified paramedic or intermediate emergency medical technician.

Last month, Mills Town Council members voted to defund the town's professional fire department. There was little or no public discussion prior to the resolution, which was placed on the council's agenda immediately before the meeting. 

Days after the vote, the Mills Profesional Fire Fighters Association issued a statement claiming the fire department is being shut down June 30 as retaliation for contract negotiations breaking down.

A union spokesperson also said closing the full-time department will lead to increased response times. Town officials say nearby agencies will handle emergency calls, however, other fire department leaders said they were surprised to hear of the town's vote.

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