Nebraska Local Wins Fight Against Private EMS

February 17 • 2019

The members of the Hamilton County EMS Association are staying on the job while a county commissioner is out of work following an aggressive campaign by Local 4956 and its members with assistance from the IAFF.

Most importantly, the citizens of Aurora, the largest municipality in Hamilton County, Nebraska, will benefit from top-shelf, fire-based EMS services provided Hamilton County Local 4956.

County Commissioner Gregg Kremer’s tenure on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners came to an end in February after a vote to remove him from office succeeded by a margin of nine votes, 176 for and 167 against.

The recall vote marks the culmination of a years-long effort led by Kremer to privatize Hamilton County’s EMS service and disband Local 4956, which had struggled to engage county officials in contract negotiations. The vote confirmed the citizens of Hamilton County don’t want their safety in the hands of a private company.

This victory required the dogged efforts of the 12-member local, the Nebraska Professional Fire Fighters and the IAFF to convince citizens and public officials of the value of fire-based EMS.

“The size of a local does not matter,” says 2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright. “The IAFF will always fight for our members and for public safety. Local 4956 members should be commended for staying strong for so long.”

Talk of privatization emerged in Hamilton County in 2017 following ongoing efforts by the local to engage in public safety discussions with the county commission.

The rising chatter was a sign the county no longer wanted to foot the bill for EMS. As the commission considered its options, Local 4956 and the IAFF began working on a campaign to bring fire-based EMS under the control of the City of Aurora while partially subsidized by the county.

The IAFF assisted the local with a comprehensive public relations campaign to educate the community about the perils of privatization. As a result, the county commission and the City of Aurora agreed to reject two proposals for private EMS in favor of the fire-based EMS plan promoted by Local 4956.

Kremer was the only county commissioner voting against the proposal to bring EMS under the city’s control and the primary force behind the privatization campaign, opposing Local 4956 at every turn.

The IAFF helped design a recall campaign strategy that included messaging, digital outreach, printed literature and targeted voter outreach. Though the vote was close, it marked a major victory for Local 4956 and a repudiation of anti-labor sentiment by voters in this rural Nebraska community.

“There are two reasons this effort was successful,” says President of the Nebraska Professional Fire Fighters Association Darren Garrean. “First, the

12 members of Local 4956 have stayed solid and united. Second, the resources the IAFF brought to bear in the fight were unbelievable, from the direct involvement of General President Schaitberger and Mark Woolbright, to the various IAFF departments.”

Local 4956 President Matt Hedge says, “I don’t think this fight is over. We won a major victory, but I’m sure we will face opposition along the way.”