Thursday, December 27, 2007


The "real truth" about New Albany's Fire Department ...

Freedom of Speech received this letter via e-mail. Per the authors request we are posting it here, as it is about time for the "real truth" to be revealed to the citizens and taxpayers of the City of New Albany.

Dear Freedom of Speech,

I served on the New Albany Fire Department for seventeen years. From June 2, 1989 to June 6, 2006. I spent many of those years involved in the New Albany Professional Fire Fighters Union, IAFF, Local 410.

I have been a Trustee, Recording Secretary, Secretary Treasurer as well as President (twice).

I had to leave the department much earlier than what I really had planned due to a non-duty related shoulder injury.

What you are about to read is NOT from Local 410.

I say this only because if anything remotely close to this were to come from the Local or the Executive Board then there would be some serious HELL to pay afterwards.

I even question what the price will be for me as a retiree. I will take that chance.

What you are about to read is something that no one on the department now would dare write, not to mention even have printed publicly. They know how this management team works and they fear retaliation.

And trust me, it would happen. It has happened in the recent past.

The fire department is very well stocked with some very valuable people. Some very talented people. Some very smart people. All of whom really do want to come to work and provide the absolute best that they can for the community. And many do.

But other than the twice monthly incentive which is put into their checking accounts, what morale-boosting incentive do these men and women have to do the work? Nothing.

In fact, it’s working quite the opposite way. They instead are greeted with petty complaints from management, nitpicking and what is perceived as extra efforts to make the work of the members more difficult and frustrating.

At one time it was actually considered by these guys and gals “fun” to GET to come to work.

What happened? Many would allege gross mismanagement. Strong words, yes. A fact? Perhaps. More than likely agreed upon by a vast majority of the members of the fire department? Yes. Publicly? No, as they fear retribution and continued what is now alleged as harassment.

Fire department members have gone through Republican and through Democratic administrations and were faced with the same obstacles. It seems that the fire department leaders just did not want to make any progress. It’s just not logical.

I believe that it would be fair to say that most everyone involved in the City of New Albany government operations knows that there are huge problems in not just the fire department but the entire city with this “alleged” gross mismanagement.

It’s gone on for years and years.

If the operation of this city was treated the same as corporate America, these people would have been fired a long time ago.

The job of a fire fighter is much more than being able to drag someone out of a burning building. Yes, that is a part of it. But, one must first be able to have the knowledge regarding the techniques to do so.

They must also be able to recognize the signs of when it is not safe to even attempt the rescue.

They must be able to recognize differences in building construction and put an approximate date as to the era in which the building was built to provide with certain safety tips. They must have knowledge of codes and infractions.

They must have good math skills to be able to pump a fire engine at a fire scene and be able to calculate friction loss in four 3 inch lines being pumped that Y off into six 1 ¾” hand lines and be able to figure how many gallons of water per minute is being pumped versus the capacity of the engine they are using.

Do you get where I am headed here? It’s not just about being strong and physically fit.

A fire Captain must possess writing skills well enough to write a report which becomes a legal document as to the findings and initial investigation of the incident(s). Fire department members must also possess communication skills as they are faced with members of the public every day.

Fire department members are sent out to schools to speak to young and very impressionable kids about fire safety. What if they don’t understand it themselves? How are they going to relay that information? Some say, “I’m just not a good speaker in front of people.” Well, I’m sorry but you are in the wrong line of work.

It is the job of that fire fighter to educate the public about fire safety to prevent tragic events like fatal house fires.

Fire fighters are looked up to by most everyone and they should exceed public expectations.

The decisions a fire fighter makes will affect the outcome of the fire to a greater or lesser degree. In some cases, lives will hang in the balance – those of civilians, fellow firefighters and their own.

The firefighter making these decisions must be fully aware of the consequences of his or her reaction, must base it upon sound information, and use a proper decision-making process. This process should be founded in sound understanding and appreciation of a number of principles or concepts of fire fighting.

Many departments REQUIRE that you have EMS certifications in place BEFORE you can even apply. It would certainly save time and money for the department. It also assures that you are going to get applicants who would more than likely be able to make it through a testing procedure for promotions within the department (which by the way do not exist in the NAFD).

Promotions to the rank of Sergeant / Operator, Captain / Company Commander and Major / Assistant Chief are made through a very relaxed method of the Chief asking the rest of the staff who they believe would be best for the job. Then, the Chief picks who he believes is best. It very well may be the same person that the rest of the staff chose. It could be someone totally different.

The Chief has the last say. There are no minimum qualifications for ANY rank. There is not a testing procedure, written or practical skills testing, for ANY rank. If you want the promotion, you put in a letter to the Chief saying so. The staff meets and they decide. That’s it.

Very rarely are there even interviews for these promotions.

I spent about a year on a committee with five other fire fighters working on a promotional procedure for the department. One that the Chief stated would never make it past his desk.

It’s funny because the Mayor told us to bring what we had designed directly to him. It’s great when management works together, isn’t it? At least the Mayor recognizes that the fire department promotional system needs help.

In addition, I would like to think that the administration would be jumping up and down wanting to hire the most qualified people for the future of the department.

But that apparently is not the case.

The recent battle over the hiring ordinance is absolutely ridiculous.

There is a testing procedure used all over the state of Indiana that is currently in place.

Why is New Albany such a special case? Are New Albany’s problems so special and out of the ordinary that we can’t simply observe what other cities are doing and what procedures that they have intact and then build on those ideas?

Or, are special interests involved?

Are people wanting to change a system to accommodate for what is perceived as a self serving need? Could be.

If ANYONE wishes to be a fire fighter, then there is a procedure.

If they are able to get through that procedure, then they are able to be a fire fighter.

When it comes to race, sex, religion, political affiliation, orientation or any other “label”, I don’t care who you are as long as you can come to my house and know what you are doing when you are trying to put out my fire!

I don’t want “buddies” of the Chief, the Mayor’s relatives, City Council member’s friends, relatives of fire fighters or anyone else who is unable to perform.

Those who prove themselves through a proven system are the ones that I want helping me. If they just happen to be related to or friends of anyone listed above, then so be it. At least they would have proven themselves and earned the right to be where they are.

In just about any profession remotely similar to that of being a fire fighter there is a testing procedure. I would like to think that the people charged with the duty of selecting candidates for the fire department would realize and understand that.

We cannot hire people just because they want the job. It doesn’t work that way.

Prove that you are capable of doing this work, both physically and mentally, and candidates will be chosen based on where they rank in the scoring system.

It’s really very simple.

EMS training is required on the NAFD. The candidates must be able to not only pass the classes and exams to achieve the certifications required, but also be able to apply those skills and the knowledge on the streets.

It means lives are saved, or they are not.

I ask those who debate the system, which one would you want working on your family?

Skilled or not skilled? I thought so.

The argument of the test not being fair for minorities is unfounded. Prove it!

Either you have the skills to do this type of very special work or you don’t. It’s that simple.

You have requirements to work in most any job.

To be a fire fighter takes many special skills and a great amount of cognitive recall ability.

If a person rolls up on a fire and doesn’t know what to do because he/she did not comprehend in training what they were supposed to do then there is a very serious life threatening issue on hand.

The days of putting the wet stuff on the red stuff are over. Long gone.

Getting this through the heads of those who are making the important management decisions has been met with the equivalence of talking to a concrete block.

If the City Council wants to bow down to political pressure then they have to live with that.

Unfortunately, as a result, so do we.

If someone wants to state that a procedure is unfair then let the courts decide. They can file suit and prove it legally.

If ALL “minorities ” are truly being included in this argument then I simply state this:

If the demographics of the fire department should reflect, with consistency, the demographics of the community, then the department should be about 50% women, have more Hispanic members, Native Americans as well as Asian members.

Other demographic sectors have certainly met or are past their “quotas”.

Bottom line is this:

If someone, now or in the very near future, January of 2008 perhaps, could demand that this fire department hire qualified people who will be able to get through a promotion procedure to include written exams, practical skills testing and any other fitting method of “proving your worth” then it would surely be a big change from what is going on now.

Indiana Code provides that all hired police officers attend the State of Indiana Police Academy.

Is there such a thing for fire fighters? No. Is this a problem? Yes.

Fire departments are allowed to train (or not train) their members on their own. A state training academy would certainly allow for consistent and, more than likely, a higher quality education as it relates to the fire service.

Indiana Code also provides that the Mayor can appoint a Chief of the fire department as long as he/she has five years in the fire service. No other credentials are required. No degrees in management, no fire science degree, not even any personnel management skills. And for Deputy Chief, it’s two years.

How’s that for “qualified” leadership.

In the event that you didn’t pick up on the level of frustration during this “rant”, allow me to be more direct.

As I said, I worked in this department for 17 years. When I first came onto the
department I was excited about the possibilities. As time went by I saw a rapid decline in the skills and abilities of those leading the department.

I saw people who I believed where good people resign from positions because of what was believed to be harsh working conditions.

I’ve seen Mayors come and go.

I’ve been witness to and been involved in Union activity to fight for issues that usually good management would bring to the table.

Instead, the Union was coming to the City wanting more training and asking about other issues of safety which would require more of the members. The Union asked the City for the existing First Responder EMS training. The Union asked the City for a random drug and alcohol testing policy. The Union asked the City for better new recruit training.

All things which would provide a much better service for the community.

The Union went to the City for all of this. It’s as though the “workers” recognized better than “management” what the issues where and took the lead to resolve them.

These are issues that a good management team should realize are issues if they are doing a proper analysis of the department in an effort to recognize where the department’s weaknesses are and how they can be improved upon.

Half of solving a problem is identifying it. One must first possess the skills to recognize where the problem(s) are. Then, one must possess the management skills necessary to know what to do to resolve the problem(s). Even if he/she doesn’t know himself/herself how to fix it, then at least be able to recognize that and delegate that project to someone who does know how to fix it.

I realize that would require a relinquishment of some authority, however, it does seem to make sense, and it works.
Tony Wolfe

Retired NAFD
New Albany, IN

It is clear that the author of this letter has the knowledge and experience with the New Albany Fire Department to share these facts.

Freedom of Speech appreciates the courage it took to bring the truth out to the taxpayers of New Albany. So now...who do you believe?

Mayor Garner and Fire Chief Toran or the employees of the New Albany Fire Department?

My money is on the NAFD employees.