Helping Henryville put fire departments in financial bind

Fire crews rushed to help out when Henryville was struck by a tornado.
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It is only natural when a community needs help that another community would rush to its aid, but now, it seems even Hoosier Hospitality has its limits.

When the town of Henryville was ravaged by a tornado, emergency responders from all across Indiana arrived to help, knowing there would be a price to be paid back at home. It's a price that Fishers Fire Chief Steven Orusa says could compromise his department's ability to help in the future.

"The worst position to put us in is that we want to help, but we can't because the financial burden is so great," Orusa said.

The problem is simple, according to Orusa. For every firefighter on the ground at Henryville, a second firefighter had to be brought in to replace them back at home. Both are getting overtime, which threatens to break the budget.

"So the firefighter working in Henryville only gets paid for 12 hours. We, the taxpayers in Fishers, have to find and pay for the other 12 hours, plus the twelve hours of overtime it costs to cover him back home. So realistically, the state only covers thirty three cents on the dollar," Orusa said.

"What if you had a call from Henryville, like you did, and then a month or two later, you have a bigger crisis here?" Eyewitness News Reporter Kevin Rader asked Orusa at the Fishers fire station.

His response was measured.

"When you can't get reimbursed that money, that hurts your ability to provide services in our community. That is a catch 22," he said. "We would like to help, but the financial burden is so great, it risks our ability to help."

And their help was dearly needed.

Fishers Fire Department personnel conducted searches, drove ambulances and contributed to the incident management team, but the state only repaid the local departments 33 cents on the dollar.

Eyewitness News has learned there's a move now to pay more. A bill will be heard at the Statehouse next week that would bump that up to 66 cents on the dollar.

"We don't want departments to decide to participate in the task force on whether they can afford it or not," said retired firefighter and Greensburg Representative Randy Frye in a written statement.

Orusa was more direct.

"Money can't be the barrier in the time of need during a disaster," he said.

It is an economic lesson local fire departments all across the state have had to learn and it's a lesson they are all looking forward to bringing to the Statehouse next week.

Again, Orusa said Fishers clearly wants to do it's part and let experienced personnel do the jobs they have been trained to do, but he is hoping the state will step up and do its part as well.

"We want to be able to share them, but we need a little help from the state," he said.