Firefighters try to work out new exercise deal

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 5, 2006

Brookhaven aldermen Tuesday agreed to take another look at newpolicy prohibiting city firefighters from working out at a localfitness center while on duty, but some board members remainedadamant in support of the policy change.

Fire Chief Bob Watts asked aldermen Tuesday night to reconsiderthe decision they made at the last board meeting. He cited physicalfitness and other benefits of firefighters being able to work outat the King’s Daughters Therapy Center as part of a city agreementwith the facility.

“I thought this was one of the better things to happen in thefire department in quite a long time,” Watts said.

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At the April 18 board meeting, following an executive sessionfor personnel reasons, aldermen voted to prohibit firefighters fromworking out while on duty. The move had no effect on firefighters’ability to go to the center during off hours.

Prior to the agreement with KDMC, which has been in effect abouta year, firefighters had been working out at the stations usingtheir own equipment, Watts said. By being able to work out at thecenter, he said firefighters have an opportunity to do so in asupervised environment and to be in better condition to do theirjobs.

“That’s part of their job: to be physically fit,” Wattssaid.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron, however, said otherdepartments have employees with stressful jobs who are unable to gowork out while on duty. He questioned how it would look if theywere able to go.

“It just don’t look good,” Cameron said.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell agreed. He said it was an “imageproblem” for the city.

“It’s what it appears like to citizens around town,” saidMaxwell, mentioning questions from citizens regarding why the firetruck was frequently seen at the hospital.

Watts said he also had been asked those questions. However, hesaid citizens supported the workout policy once it wasexplained.

“I have not heard one negative comment from anyone in thepublic,” Watts said.

Aldermen returned to the fairness issue in regard to other cityemployees.

“There’s other departments out there we have to face and treateverybody right,” said Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates.

In addition to the on-duty workout prohibition, aldermen at thelast meeting voted to have firefighters water trees downtown.Saying the workout move deflated firefighter morale, Watts alsoexpressed some concern about the added watering duties.

“That’s not the issue, it’s just the way we were approachedabout it,” Watts said.

Watts said there was no notice on the workout decision nor onthe tree-watering request. He said the department would be glad towater the trees.

Following the chief’s comments, Ward Four Alderwoman ShirleyEstes requested the board take a look at other cities to see howthey handle workout policies. She said the recent move could havebeen made in haste, and it could be beneficial to see how othercommunities handle similar situations.

Her motion was approved 5-2, with Cameron and Maxwell opposed.Until more information is gathered, the new board policy willremain in effect.

Later in the meeting, aldermen revisited the fire departmentissue several times after Watts left.

Cameron said he disagreed with the decision to take another lookat the situation. He said the board action was a good policy and hedid not like giving the appearance the fire department is tellingthe board of aldermen what to do.

“That’s what we just did,” Cameron said.

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner said he seconded Estes’ motionas a way of verifying the board had done the right thing initially.Estes reiterated her belief that additional information from othercities could be helpful.

“I don’t think more information about that situation will hurtus,” she said.

Later, Maxwell pointed out that firefighters work 24 hours onduty and 48 hours off duty. He indicated they have ample time toexercise when not on the clock.

“They can go work out in that 48 hours they’re off,” hesaid.

Maxwell acknowledged one point made by the chief. The aldermansaid he was “disappointed” the department was not notifiedbeforehand about the board’s decisions.