Paint Creek firefighters need new air packs and a brand previously looked at and recommended by personnel was demonstrated to the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Board at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
However, the board will not be able to make a decision on the matter until a meeting in December, as a request for quotes has been advertised, which fulfills a legal requirement, and the deadline for quotes on air packs is not until Nov. 24.
Assistant chief Chad Hamilton initially brought the matter to the board in a September meeting, and in a meeting last month presented more information to the board about what a committee of fire personnel had concluded after looking into multiple products.
Air packs are standard firefighting equipment and protect a firefighter from the deadly atmosphere within a burning structure. An individual air pack includes the harness by which an air cylinder is held, an air cylinder, face mask, regulator, PASS (personal alert safety system) device that sounds an increasingly louder alarm when a firefighter is immobile for 30 seconds, and other safety features that improve safety in a fire.
Firefighters are asking the board to purchase more than 40 air packs. Personnel are also requesting additional cylinders and three RIT (rapid intervention team) kits. The kits include a spare cylinder, face piece, and regulator.
Board member Travis Mootz asked Capt. Bill Strain why so many air packs were being requested.
According to Strain, who is also union president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4811, 32 of the district’s air packs are “basically obsolete,” and are too old to upgrade. Another 12, he said, are still upgradeable if parts can be found, which is not easy because of the age of the air packs.
Strain told the board that in the future replacing all of the district’s air packs wouldn’t happen again, but instead lesser amounts over a period of time would be requested. He said the idea for future replacement was for “smaller numbers more effectively managed.” Having a rotation policy for new air packs was also suggested.
Fred Bussard, who demonstrated for board members on Tuesday an air pack made by Scott Air Pack, said his company would include 42 additional air cylinders at no cost, which would save the district about $41,000, he said.
Bussard acknowledged that the purchase of the air packs was expensive, but said “it’s an investment in safety, an investment in lifesaving gear.”
As it stands, to purchase the more than 40 air packs and additional masks and RIT kits would cost the district about $260,000.
“Unfortunately, that’s the predicament the board is in and we the firefighters are in,” Strain said. “Our fleet of air packs are obsolete … they are falling apart.
“I know this is expensive, very expensive,” he said, “but it is the firefighters’ safety. If we don’t have the equipment for the job, our ability to do the job is hampered.”
In other business Jon Salyer, human resources manager and public information officer for Paint Creek, told the board that an investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) into suspended chief Bradley George is ongoing and that the agency is in the process of conducting interviews.
George was initially placed on suspension in early July while the board conducted investigations based on allegations by Paint Creek staff members.
In a Sept. 8 hearing, George faced charges of gross negligence, malfeasance, and failure to show good behavior. Following the hearing the board found the charges to have been established as true, and voted to place him on 30-day unpaid suspension following a failed vote for termination.
At a board meeting last month, right around the time the 30-day suspension concluded, the board once again voted to suspend George, with pay, pending the BCI investigation.
According to Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera in October, complaints were filed with his office, but in the interest of an impartial investigation and the department’s neutrality, he contacted BCI since George has been a certified officer with the sheriff’s office for more than two decades.
Following the BCI update, Mootz asked Salyer if anything was known about the investigation into back pay for the district’s first three years. Salyer said he had no knowledge of progress on the matter.
At an October meeting, the Paint Creek board authorized Hamilton, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, to begin looking into back pay for the district’s first three years, from 2010 to July 2013, for employees that may not have received overtime pay when they should have.
Salyer said in October that the previous investigation into employees not receiving overtime pay could only go back two years, according to federal mandate. The previous years’ pay, he said, “is a civil situation that the district is going to work out with its members.”
The more than $77,000 in back pay previously determined to have not been paid over a two-year period, which included a portion of 2013 through 2015, was recently paid to the affected employees.
In other business, board president Dan Mathews asked Salyer about how many applications are on file for chief and assistant chief, and Salyer said there was one.
Mathews instructed Salyer to advertise for the positions so that there would be applications on file.
After the meeting, Mathews said his request was just a safeguard, a precaution for the district, not because hiring for either one of the positions was necessarily anticipated.
Also after the meeting, Salyer said that any qualified women or men interested in applying should contact him by email at email@example.com.
Also, the board passed a resolution that would require the director of human resources to report to the board instead of the chief.
Salyer said later the change was due to the evolution of his job since he started with the district about three years ago.
Personnel present at the meeting reported that materials typically shared with students throughout the district during fire prevention education were not available due to a snafu with the company that supplies those materials. However, the materials have now arrived and personnel will be distributing them to the students.
Board members agreed to form a committee consisting of Paint Creek personnel and members of the district board to research and advise on the creation of a health and wellness program for district employees.
In old business, Mathews reported that the cost for excavating, field tile work, and placement of gravel at station two in Paint Township was $8,500.
In new business, the matter of part-timers unionizing was brought up by Salyer, who said Brian Butcher, attorney for the district, would be present at the next meeting to discuss the matter.
Board member Steve Edingfield asked Strain if personnel were still doing equipment checks each morning, to which he replied “my shift does.”
But Mootz said that wasn’t true, because he had visited a station that morning and had seen that checks had not been done, and one of the trucks, he said, had not been checked in three days.
Strain thanked Mootz for letting him know and said, “We’ll get on that.”
The Paint Creek board holds its regular meetings every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Greenfield station on Washington Street. The meetings are open to the public.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.