CALUMET TWP. — A dispute among firefighters in unincorporated Calumet Township is raising concerns about the future of public safety for its 3,000 residents.
Lake Ridge Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Redd warned Friday that unless local government provides his members $32,000 before the end of this month to pay to renew their liability insurance coverage, the volunteer fire members may be forced to stop service.
Redd said normally the Lake Ridge Fire Protection District board pays this, but they have refused to do so unless the volunteer firemen sign a contract surrendering, to the district, the fire and emergency vehicles and equipment they now use. Redd said the district also wants to depose him as chief.
Redd said the Lake Ridge volunteers have been in existence more than 30 years fighting fires and responding to traffic accidents and other emergencies within the unincorporated area, bordered by Gary, Griffith and Merrillville.
The Calumet Township trustee's office previously paid for their services and equipment. The Lake Ridge Fire Protection District has taken over that financial responsibility.
However, the volunteer organization and the district board are at an impasse over a new contract over which of the two agencies control publicly financed vehicles, equipment and new Fire Department and community center at 2301 W. 47th Ave. worth millions of dollars.
Redd said the volunteer firefighters met Thursday night with hundreds of township residents to warn of the impending crisis that could reduce fire protection and cause residents insurance rates to skyrocket.
The fire protection district is scheduled to hold a public meeting 7 p.m. Monday at the new fire department center. Louise Neese, fire protection district chairwoman, couldn't be reached for comment.
County Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, said Friday, "There will be fire protection." He said the county would seek help from the Gary, Griffith and Merrillville Fire Departments to ensure fire coverage in case the sides cannot reach agreement.
Elizabeth Villareal, a township resident, expressed concern Friday the municipal fire services may not be equipped to supply enough water to a fire scene in the unincorporated area, which doesn't have a system of fire hydrants.
Hamm said members of the County Council has been working unsuccessfully this fall to mediate the dispute between the volunteers and the district. He said the council is preparing to reconstitute the district board to bring in new leadership to resolve the dispute.