The decision to lay off most of the Mills Fire Department was made in retaliation after contract negotiations broke down, the local firefighters union said in a written statement sent to K2 Radio News Saturday morning.

An administrative staff will remain employed to perform building and occupancy inspections.

"This is inexcusable," Jeremy Todd, Mills Professional Fire Fighters President said. "If Mills firefighters are eliminated, 9-1-1 response times will increase when the community needs us most."

Todd called the decision a "gamble" and said eliminating the fire department would increase response times to emergency calls.

The current contract between the professional firefighters association and Mills government is set to expire later at the end of June. In the release, the association said town officials and firefighters agree on nearly all terms of the contract, including pay.

It's unclear what issues remain unresolved.

"For the town to walk away from the table and just eliminate the firefighters protecting this community is just as shocking to us as it is to the citizens we serve," Todd said.

On Wednesday, the Town of Mills passed a resolution dealing with a funding problem it has had for years in paying for the fire department. Mills will be without its own professional fire department after June 30.

"We've tried a lot of different things to research to find a way to fund it, or find a different way to operate it, and have found nothing that would be successful," Mills Mayor Seth Coleman said Thursday.

The town has spent between $1.1 million and $1.3 million annually to fund the department.

Coleman added that the town will contract with nearby agencies, news that took Casper Fire Chief Tom Solberg by surprise. Casper officials were unaware of the decision until contacted by K2 Radio News Thursday night.

Todd said relying on surrounding communities is not a plan that gives the town the protection it needs and deserves.