Reality setting in for three jobless Wabash Township firefighters

Merkel joined the Wabash Township Fire Department with dreams of becoming a career firefighter. But he walked into a minefield, with Teising and the township board at odds over the budget and future of the fire department.

Posted: Jun 30, 2021 3:41 PM
Updated: Jun 30, 2021 6:27 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Three former Wabash Township firefighters woke up Wednesday morning without their jobs.

That comes after a last-ditch legal battle to stop Trustee Jennifer Teising from eliminating their positions.

One of those firefighters, Travis Merkel, spoke Wednesday with News 18.

"Reality hasn't really sunk in yet," he says.

Merkel joined the Wabash Township Fire Department with dreams of becoming a career firefighter. But he walked into a minefield, with Teising and the township board at odds over the budget and future of the fire department.

"Hearing now that there's not enough money, it's kind of disheartening," he says.

On Tuesday, his dreams came crashing down — more fallout in the gridlock gripping the township. 

Merkel was hired last year after the township secured an emergency fire loan. Now, he's jobless with much of the loan unspent.

Teising planned the layoffs, saying the township needed a permanent revenue source. But the board argues there's enough money to keep them on the books, at least temporarily.

Merkel, stuck in the middle of this back-and-forth, is left wondering what his future will hold.

"Losing the job that I've wanted, the career path that I've wanted my whole life, is gone now," he says. "My mind's kind of blank at this time."

And he's facing the reality of what's next.

"I'm hurt, I'm down, but yes, I've got to stay positive for my family at home, my wife, and to show any other future firefighters that this is the best job in the world," he says.

Former Wabash Township Fire Chief Ed Ward knows the feeling. Teising faced outrage when she terminated him in December.

"We've got families at home, we've got families that rely on us to support them, we've got careers that we've spent time building," he says.

As News 18 previously reported, a judge on Tuesday afternoon issued a down-to-the-wire ruling against a last-ditch legal move to block the layoffs.

"Unfortunately, it didn't go the way that we planned," Merkel says. "I appreciate everybody's support and effort to try to come up with everything they possibly could to keep us."

As News 18 previously reported, the township's remaining volunteer firefighters stopped responding to calls in protest.

"It's not safe to have one or two guys on the scene and knowing that I'm an instructor and them possibly hurting themselves, and I strive on that safety and something were to happen to them, I don't think I could live with myself," Merkel says.

Teising hasn't returned repeated phone calls and messages from News 18.

The township board and firefighters say they're still looking at their options when it comes to saving the department.

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