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Unpaid Ottertail fire-rescue crews will get 'pay raise' under proposal

Ottertail volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members may be getting a pay raise.

Actually, when the salary is nothing--anything they receive will be something more than they received before.

Pay for Ottertail's emergency services crews has been under discussion at city council meetings the past several months.

"We're not paid at all, but we're in the process of recruiting and it was time to take a look and bring everything up to date, and get in line with other departments," said Fire Chief Myron Lueders.

There are currently 29 Ottertail firefighters, but three of them are planning to retire. Ideally, the department would have a roster of 30, said Lueders, which would mean four new firefighters need to be recruited.

The fire chief and a few officers are paid--about $300 to $400 a year, said Lueders, who has been with the department for 35 years.

The only benefit firefighters receive is a pension program, common to most rural fire departments in the state. After ten years of service, Ottertail firefighters qualify for a "retirement" benefit equivalent to about $600 per year of service.

Meanwhile, there are about 22 EMS volunteers, who also are unpaid.

Between the fire department and the EMS team, Ottertail emergency crews average about 80 calls per year.

At one time, Ottertail firefighters were receiving $2 per fire call. Fire department members decided they would rather upgrade equipment than receive the token pay.

"But now, we're pretty well equipped and manpower is our biggest need," said Lueders.

With a new round of recruitment coming up, it was "time to bring everything up to date, and get things in line with other departments," said Lueders. "Especially with gas getting up towards $4 a gallon."

Under the proposal submitted to the city council, the pay would be $10 per drill. Based on full attendance, that would have come to $3,600 over the past year. But full attendance is rare, so based on the history of the past year, the cost would have been $2,060.

For fire calls, the proposal calls for $10 an hour. Based on the past year, the cost would have been $1,830. Based on an average number of calls and firefighters responding, with an average of about two hours per call, the budget figure would be about $6,600 annually.

For emergency responder calls, the proposal seeks $15 per call. Over the past year, this cost would have been about $3,915. For budgeting purposes, Chief Lueders suggested between $4,000 and $5,000.

The total cost would range from about $7,805 to $15,200, concluded Lueders. The cost would be spread across all of Ottertail's contract areas, including the nearby townships where Ottertail provides fire protection.

The city of Ottertail's portion of the increase would amount to between $2,000 and $4,000.


Pay rates for similar-sized fire-rescue operations in area


Fire calls: $10 an hour

Rescue calls: no pay

Fire calls, if show up, but don't actually go out on call, or call is cancelled: $10 flat

Monthly meeting, training: $10 per hour, but pro-rated over four years. If meetings and training not attended, they risk being cut from department and do not receive trainning pay.

Training tuition and mileage: paid

Battle Lake

Fire calls: No direct pay for firefighters, but department charges $200 for calls. Those funds are used for fire prevention-education, such as t-shirts for kids, smoke detectors, etc.

Rescue calls: $15 per call

Monthly meeting, training: no pay

Fire calls, if show up, but call is cancelled: no pay

New recruit, training: no pay for firefighters; $15 per meeting for rescue squad

Tuition and mileage: paid


Fire calls: $8 an hour

Rescue calls: $8 an hour, for EMTs only

Pay for calls when show up, but cancelled: $8 an hour

Monthly training, meeting: no pay

New recruit, refresher training: No hourly, but fined $2 if miss meeting; $8 if miss major event

Tuition and mileage: paid

New York Mills

Fire calls: $7 an hour

Rescue calls: $7 an hour for EMTs

Calls that are cancelled: $3 flat for showing up

Monthly meeting, training: no pay

New recruit and refresher training: no pay

Tuition, mileage: paid