BFD promotions spark board debate

Published 8:51 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What were expected to be routine promotions and hirings in theBrookhaven Fire Department at Tuesday night’s board meetings turneddramatic when Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates opposed hiring andpromoting all but two of the candidates.

After a retirement of one shift captain and the resignation ofanother one, there were two positions to be filled at the firedepartment, which must keep a certain number of employees in orderto be compliant with the State Rating Bureau. Fire Chief TonyWeeks, who promoted one shift captain at the Feb. 2 meeting,brought his recommendations for promotions – based on seniority -to the board Tuesday.

Bates told Weeks that regardless of the rating bureau’srequirements, he felt like there should be no hirings or promotionswhen the economy is so bad.

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“I know about the rating bureau, but I’m talking business,” hesaid. “Promotions come in when you can.”

Bates argued that if money is being cut from the pavement budgetand the board is having to talk about layoffs if city income doesnot improve, that the fire department did not need to promote, evenif the money is already in the budget and the spots being filledare not new ones, but replacing people who have left.

Weeks and Mayor Les Bumgarner pointed out that the fire departmentis actually below budget at this point in the year, and thatpromotions would be a budget-neutral issue.

Bumgarner told Bates that there is a rank chart that must be keptcurrent in the fire department, and that it had been stated inprevious meetings that the fire department and police departmentneeded to be kept at capacity for that reason. He also pointed outthat if the department is not at capacity, the city ends up payingout overtime since each shift has to be filled and there aren’tenough workers.

“You cannot deny these people a promotion, and if you don’t hirethe two people to take those places, it’s going to cost you moremoney,” he said. “Plus the fire rating, plus we need theprotection.”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron agreed with the mayor.

“The citizens of Brookhaven, whenever they have an emergency, theyexpect us to do something about it,” he said. “Like if you call thepolice department, you’re not thinking about how many people theyhave or how many they’re short, you need someone to answer thecall.”

Bates was still adamant that the firefighters would do their duty,even if they were not promoted. He said that the raises and hiringswould include $72,000, which Weeks pointed out is still in thebudget.

“If I ask a firefighter out there if he didn’t get a promotiontonight would he still fight fire, he would,” he said. “I’m notagainst the firefighters, I’m not against the street department.Everyone from the city means something to me, and I’m not makingthis excuse to down anyone.”

Bumgarner pointed out to Bates that people cannot be asked toperform jobs that they’re not being paid for. Bates said that inthat case, they should stay in the same position, and not bepromoted without pay.

“Well then who will be the shift captain?” Bumgarner asked.

Bates, who apparently was not familiar with the duties of a shiftcaptain, responded quickly, “Well what do they do there?”

In the end, certified firefighter Garrett Case was hired, and ChrisDavis was hired pending the Candidate Physical Aptitude Test, bothby a vote of 6-1, with Bates voting no. Bill Beeson was promoted toshift captain, Justin Rippy was promoted to captain, and BlakeWatts was promoted to lieutenant by a vote of 6-1, again with Batesagainst. But Earnest Sterling and Frederick Kees, who justgraduated from the Mississippi State Fire Academy, were approvedfor their certification raises by a vote of 7-0.