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Source: Kokomo Tribune

BOW denies grievance filed by Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396

By George Myers
KOKOMO - The Kokomo Board of Public Works this week denied a grievance filed last month by the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396 that alleged the city violated a contractual agreement.

On Wednesday, the BOW denied the grievance on the grounds that the Kokomo Fire Department had acted within the contract’s parameters when calling for assistance from volunteer fire departments. 

The union’s grievance was filed on Nov. 14 following a house fire less than a month earlier that required Kokomo firefighters to call for Harrison and Russiaville volunteer fire departments for water supply.

On Oct. 19, KFD Battalion 2 was dispatched to the 3000 block of Oxford St. on a report of a house fire with smoke, according to a findings of fact document adopted by the BOW.

Tanker 1, located at Station 2, was not in service on that day. Therefore, Battalion Chief Brad Myers called for Harrison and Russiaville volunteer fire departments for water supply, and the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department arrived on scene and supplied water for KFD to “fight the fire without further incident,” according to the findings of fact.

On Nov. 14, the union filed a grievance, alleging that, “Calling for outside assistance from Harrison Township F.D. violates … our contractual agreement. Tanker 1 was taken out of service on this day to not pay overtime.

“This is common practice of the KFD administration to take Tanker 1 out of service to avoid overtime costs.”

Local 396’s settlement request was “mandatory staffing of Tanker 1 at all times.”

During a public hearing before the BOW on Nov. 30, Local 396 President Chris Frazier questioned the safety of waiting until a fire is underway to either call in firefighters for overtime or reach out to volunteer fire departments.

Additionally, Frazier referenced a recent fire that caused the battalion chief to take a firefighter off Engine 2 to run the tanker, leaving Engine 2 short-staffed.

“Our choices now are we are either going by their contract and using volunteers to do our job, or we are going to have to pull people off of our own fire trucks that run as two-man trucks during this time,” he stated.

The portion of the contract alleged by Local 396 to have been violated states that, “Except in an emergency situation, no personnel except those of the Kokomo Fire Department shall be used to fight fires. It is not the intent of the City to call for outside assistance to fight fires in order to deny off-duty personnel unscheduled overtime.”

Following the submission of the grievance, Kokomo Fire Chief Nick Glover issued a written opinion concluding that KFD did not violate the terms of the agreement.

Glover did, however, offer to award four hours of pay to any employee of Local 396’s choice to “resolve the matter,” according to the findings of fact.

During the Nov. 30 hearing, the findings of fact document states that numerous “relevant facts” were presented. The first notes that Oxford Street was annexed by the city and does not have fire hydrants, meaning it relied on other sources of water.

Also, Tanker 1 has been out of service for more than 90 days, including any partial days, but that this grievance was the first filed by the union. Additionally, Engine 2 was stationed at Station 2 and qualifies as a tanker truck. It was, however, out of service on Oct. 19, the day of the fire, according to the findings of fact.

Most notably, though, it was determined that the house fire on Oct. 19 was an “emergency situation.”

Because the section of the contract highlighted in the dispute begins with the wording “Except in an emergency situation…” the BOW ruled that KFD did not violate its contract.

“Therefore, given President Frazier’s acknowledgement that the fire at 3112 Oxford St. was an emergency situation … the Board of Public Works and Safety hereby finds KFD did not violate the plain language of Article X Section 8 when the department called for outside assistance to respond to the emergency situation,” read the findings of fact.

During the Nov. 30 meeting, Frazier said, “Every fire would be considered an emergency.”

Frazier said, however, that he believes the city’s interpretation of “emergency” is skewed. In Frazier’s opinion, a house fire does not constitute an emergency for a city fire department, meaning the department shouldn’t rely on outside agencies for assistance in those situations.

Frazier criticized the city for, in his opinion, keeping the tanker out of service for financially-motivated reasons, which requires the department to rely on measures that are “against the intent of the language” of the contract.

“Everything we do is an emergency. You’re talking about excessive emergencies in the language,” he said to the BOW during the Nov. 30 hearing.

In the findings of fact, the BOW stated that the contractual agreement doesn’t allow for multiple interpretations of “emergency.”

 The BOW stated that “the phrase is not defined in the Agreement to provide further definitions or sub-classifications of when a situation qualifies as an ‘emergency.’”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.

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