Confusion concerning fire department position among topics discussed at Tuesday’s Piedmont City Council meeting

PIEDMONT – Confusion concerning the hiring of a position within the Piedmont Fire Department was one of many items discussed at Tuesday’s Piedmont City Council meeting.

Fire Chief Mike Ledbetter said he was told the city was under a hiring freeze following the council’s vote of a $1.50 pay raise to current employees late last year. Ledbetter said at that time he was told he could not hire for a position that he said had been permanent since 2010.

“I was actually ready to advertise and I had somebody who was already certified who actually wanted to be in the position, but I was told no. He now works for Anniston Fire Department,” Ledbetter said.

“I walked in the (city) office a couple of weeks ago and I saw an advertisement on the wall. I think it was for another department for a hire. I said ‘I thought we were under a hiring freeze. The city clerk (Carl Hinton) said ‘This is to replace somebody.’ I said ‘I’ve got a dayshift position that did not get to be hired. That’s a permanent position. There’s no difference.’”

District 5 representative Greg South said it was his understanding while the council discussed the raise, the question was asked if all departments were sufficiently staffed at that point.

“I thought at that point everybody was pleased with the staffing as we moved forward,” South said. “Anybody that went out that’s already hired we would replace, but we were not going to add any more to the payroll at that point to justify the expense of the $1.50 raise.”

District 3 councilman Jubal Feazell questioned, “Was this one on the list of vacancies we eliminated/froze?,” to which Hinton replied, “When the new list was made, this was not on the list.”

“It should have been,” Ledbetter replied. “I was told the $1.50 (raise) was passed and the hiring freeze was put in place and that this position could not be filled, only those positions that were already in existence. I said this one is. It has been since 2010. I just don’t have anybody in it right now because I was getting ready to advertise and hire somebody.”

District 6 representative David Ivey asked Ledbetter what the impact was of not having this position filled, to which Ledbetter replied, “Having this dayshift guy gives us four people on a fire truck during weekdays. We have three people around the clock. This would be a fourth guy. This ensures that we come off the truck and we have a pump operator and someone establishing a water supply and we have two people who are immediately ready to go into the house.

“ISO (Insurance Services Office) and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) says that we need 10 people on the scene within the first 10 minutes to achieve 80 percent of our goal. This is not going to give us those 10 people, but it’s going to give us one more person that is going to help us try to stay safe. When you send two people in a house, you’re supposed to have two outside as backup. You’re supposed to have somebody operating a pump, somebody establishing a water supply, and an instant commander who is the boss. That’s seven people. Right now when a truck arrives we’ve got three. We know we’ve got three during the daytime. This would give us four. This would get us closer to the seven, but we’re still not there.

“It is critical to have enough manpower when you respond to a fire, especially a structure fire. It has been very hard to maintain the personnel to keep our people safe and to follow the guidelines we’re supposed to follow when we go to a fire. It’s very difficult to do that. If I’m allowed to hire one more guy during the day, this won’t fix all of our problems, but it will help. It will help a lot.

“This was a position that was open. It should have been filled and it was not allowed to be filled. I don’t know if there’s confusion on whether people think the grant brought this position or if it wasn’t permanent but that’s not the case.”

Mayor Bill Baker then responded: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I heard you say at one point that when we hire the last two people, then you were fully staffed and wouldn’t need anybody else.”

Ledbetter later said, “That may have been reaching the goal with three around the clock. That may have been what that was. That was having three people on each shift. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

Baker told Ledbetter he appreciated him bringing the issue to the council’s attention.

“Let us do some talking,” Baker said, referring to the council.

In his fire report for the month of June, Ledbetter reported his department worked one structure fire, two automatic alarms, four woods fires, 13 service calls, four vehicle accidents, seven ambulance assists, two hazardous materials calls, three established landing zones, and one vehicle fire.

He also updated the council on the status of the new radios that were previously purchased.

“This past week, Alcom sent myself and (Piedmont Police) Chief (Nathan) Johnson some templates. We had a look at those templates, okayed those and sent them back to Alcom. They are building these templates into the computers now, getting ready to start programming the radios. They said once the templates were completed, they were going to program a couple of portable radios and bring them to us to try for a couple of weeks. When they told me a few weeks, I asked them how long it was going to be before we were actually ready to put the whole system into play. They gave me the answer not long. We’re probably a week-and-a-half away from getting radios to try.”

Another item Ledbetter brought to the council’s attention was updating building code inspections.

“We were conducting a building inspection the other day and I got to calling a couple of folks. I was asking for some detailed advice, and I found out the last time the city adopted fire or building codes was in 2006,” Ledbetter said.

“To have the most up-to-date information possible, and to keep up with inspectors around us, the ones we call on for opinions and extra advice, the 2015 edition is what everybody is using. I would like to see the council adopt the international fire codes and international building codes 2015 editions.”

The newer building code editions would cost $200-$250 apiece, Ledbetter said.

During his time at the speaker podium, Johnson introduced the council to one of the department’s two newly-hired police officers, Jared Ruark.

“The other one is Solomon Doss, but he got called away. He’s doing his two-week military training. He couldn’t be here with us tonight,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Ruark graduated from the police academy in mid-April. He’s completed the FTO program, and has “done a really good job.”

“I see some really good things coming from this officer in the future,” Johnson said.

In his June report, Johnson said his department had a total of 45 arrests on 59 charges with 13 of those arrests being felony with 15 felony charges. Officers issued 59 traffic citations and worked six traffic accidents. They were dispatched on 343 calls for service, with 102 of those resulting in a report being filed. Officers patrolled 8,180 miles during the month.

The dispatch office dispatched 387 rescue calls and 39 Piedmont fire calls. Court collections for the month were in the amount of $19,116.96.

In abatement, there were 24 total cases for the month of June, including seven yard cases and seven new cases. There were 19 old cases being worked on, with seven completed. There was on contract on a structure, three court appearances, two verbal contacts, and three contacts for building permits.

In animal control for June, there were 14 calls for service with an investigation/court case. Nineteen animals were picked up, with five of those taken to shelter and 14 reclaimed by the owner.

The council also heard from University of Alabama Research and Economic Development representative DeForest Tuggle. She informed the council of a federal grant the city could apply for that can be used for improvements to the Ladiga Trail, including resurfacing. The grant application is due Sept. 12.

Speaking of grants, during council reports, Ivey said the city did not receive the Lowe’s Hometown Grant Project that was applied for earlier this year.

Also during council reports, both Feazell and Baker thanked Piedmont First Baptist Church for a recent community clean-up session.

Minutes from the previous meeting were approved, as were bills for payment totaling $474,668.14.

In its work session, the council heard from S&H Waterproofing and Construction representative Robert Sadler concerning water leak improvements to the Piedmont Civic Center. The council also heard from House District 29 Republican nominee Mark Gidley and Alabama District 12 Senate Republican nominee Keith Kelley.

Local resident Carrie Hightower followed up with the council on a letter she sent last week concerning her land and a back alley road in Little Subdivision that she would like to have closed. Two resolutions were approved by the council during the regular meeting to proceed with closing that road along with pursuing the closure of other similar areas.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2.

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