10/24/11 — District 4 resident complains about Fire Department policies

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District 4 resident complains about Fire Department policies

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 24, 2011 1:46 PM

Goldsboro District 4 Councilman the Rev. Charles Williams held an informal meeting with his constituents Friday morning, a meeting that continued a discussion over emergency medical training for members of the city Fire Department at last Monday's Council meeting.

Attending the meeting were Williams, City Manager Scott Stevens, Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan and three residents of the district: Mary Rowe, Neal Stitt and former city employee Joe Sawyer.

On Monday, Williams expressed concern over the requirement that firefighters be trained in emergency medical practices, saying they should concentrate on putting out fires.

Ms. Rowe said she believes there is racial discrimination in the fire department and cited the leaving of former Chief Alvin Ward, who is black, as evidence. She also questioned current Fire Chief Gary Whaley's credentials to require EMT certification from applicants for firefighter jobs. Whaley is white.

Ms. Rowe said she believes firefighters should be putting out fires, not giving emergency medical assistance.

The EMT policy was introduced in 1996 by then-chief Bobby Greenfield, who is black. The policy allowed for firefighters to apply, pass their candidate physical ability test, and receive certification in two firefighter areas of study and be hired with the stipulation that they earn their EMT certification within two years.

The EMT course is offered four times annually at Wayne Community College, as well as through other institutions, but the department was experiencing turnover as firefighters trained and worked for two years only to fail to receive their certification.

To avoid the waste of overtime pay -- the city often paid for the certification classes for firefighters -- and training and time investment in trainees, Whaley implemented a restriction whereby no applications from candidates without EMT certification would be considered for a job.

After discussions with Stevens, Whaley relaxed the restrictions a bit, allowing applications from candidates without EMT certification to be considered in a short list of qualified applicants. All applicants without EMT certification would receive a packet instructing them on how to get certified through the EMT course.

Williams questioned Stevens on the number of firefighters that had been terminated due to not receiving their certification within the amount of allotted amount of time -- two years. Since 2003, Stevens said, three firefighters had been terminated because they failed to acquire their EMT credentials on time.

Stevens said city leaders had decided that providing EMT service in addition to firefighting was a benefit to residents since the five municipal fire departments were strategically spread around the city to minimize response time.

Ms. Rowe repeated her concerns over perceived discrimination in the department.

Ward resigned shortly before the release of an audit report that described the department at the time as "in a state of disarray and chaos." Whaley, who was an assistant chief at the time, was named the interim and inherited the full-time position in July 2009.

She also criticized the Streetscape project aimed at improving Center Street's appearance and added that she believed Wayne County residents should also pay city taxes since they used city amenities, just as city residents have to pay both city and county property taxes.

Stitt's comments were related to keeping up the city's appearance. He said more should be done about the upkeep of rental properties.

Williams said he would consider hold another such meeting in the evening, when turnout might be higher.