ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The fire department tasked with keeping you safe when you go to a Dallas Cowboys game could be losing a big chunk of its staff.
The Arlington Fire Department is seeing a mass exodus as firefighters battle the city to keep benefits firefighters say they were promised many years ago.
The department could lose 15 to 20 percent of its firefighters this year. When asked how the loss would impact public safety, the Arlington Firefighters Association pointed to AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It holds as many as 100,000 people at full capacity. If there were to be an emergency at the stadium, firefighters say you’d want a fully-staffed department responding.
“I was hoping that I was going to be able to retire under my own terms when I wanted to,” said Capt. Kent Lacy. “There’s many of us that have put in our retirement papers that are getting ready to retire that feel like we’re being pushed out.”
After 24 years with the Arlington Fire Department, Lacy is one of 28 firefighters retiring this year, according to City of Arlington records. The firefighters association predicts as many as 50 retirements could be submitted by tomorrow.
Firefighters are rushing to retire before they lose a benefit that lets them cash out up to 180 days of unused sick time when they retire, often adding up to tens of thousands of dollars.
“At my station, we staff three people on three different shifts for a total of nine people,” said Lt. Scott Wallace who is also retiring. “Out of those nine people, four people have turned in their retirement papers with one more expected to do it.”
This year’s 28 retirements are much more than what the department normally sees. In 2016, only 10 firefighters retired. In 2015, it was only four. The department only has about 320 firefighters total.
The city and firefighters are at a stalemate after weeks of discussions over benefits. In May, Arlington voters granted firefighters civil service protection. It’s a state protection commonly offered to police officers and firefighters. It protects them from being fired without cause and sets standards for promotions and hirings.
Firefighters agreed to pay for the cost of implementing civil service protection. The city is looking to see what other benefits can be cut, believing it is currently offering firefighters more benefits than what is owed to them under civil service protection. The instability and possible loss of benefits has caused low morale, say firefighters who are retiring.
Twenty-five younger Arlington firefighters have applied to work at the Fort Worth Fire Department.
The City of Arlington didn’t want to comment on camera, but in a statement said it is not worried about not having enough firefighters. Fifteen new firefighters are joining the department next month and several more in training to make up for the vacancies.