Probe of fire dept. finds need for improved communication


By Michael Seffrin - mseffrin@aimmedianetwork.com



SIDNEY — An internal investigation of the Sidney Department of Fire & Emergency Services found no evidence of discrimination against an individual firefighter, but recommends improvement in communication between fire administration and personnel and other changes.

City Manager Mark Cundiff last week released a report of the investigation, which took place throughout the summer and included interviews with all current fire department employees and former employees.

“This has been a long process,” Fire Chief Brad Jones said in prepared statement in response to a request by the Sidney Daily News.“My family, the department and I would like to thank the community for their support. It is difficult to be unable to respond to unjust accusations but I agree with the process to review any claims of unfair treatment. As chief it is my responsibility to ensure the fitness for duty of each employee and to drive accountability for the safety of personnel, their fellow firefighters and citizens. The Sidney Fire Department looks forward to continued positive changes and growth, while we are working through staffing challenges which remain below prerecession levels, and necessary improvements to our equipment.”

“Sidney Professional Firefighters Local 912 would like to take this opportunity to thank the city management for listening and acting on the concerns that were brought forth,” Dallas Davis, president of Sidney Professional Firefighters Local 912, said in a prepared statement in response to a request by the newspaper. “It is a top priority of the officers of Local 912 to provide a safe and professional working environment. As you know, the city management has released their findings and although we respect those findings, there are concerns on the length and how the procedure was conducted.

“The members of L-912 acknowledge there is work to be done on improving employee relations. Local 912 views this as an opportunity to work with management to strive toward excellent service.

“The members of Sidney Professional Firefighters Local 912 are truly a dedicated body who will continue to provide superior service to our community.”

The investigation began June 12 after Fire Lt. Bret Kittle sent an email to Cundiff, the city’s human resources department, and officials of IAF Local 912. In the email, Kittle alleged that Deputy Fire Chief Cameron Haller was discriminating against him and harassing him. On June 19, Kittle sent another email making the same claims as well as a number of other allegations against Fire Chief Brad Jones.

In summary, Cundiff’s findings are:

• The investigation found no evidence of Kittle being discriminated against by either Jones or Haller.

• The investigation concluded that the claim of harassment over Kittle’s moustache was without merit.

• Improvement needs to be made in how the fire administration and the fire personnel communicate with each other. The administration and the union need to meet to work out a plan to improve communications and address other issues impacting morale. Perhaps team-building and other exercises would be helpful.

• Jones “has not ignored staffing issues and has requested additional staff in every budget since I’ve been city manager,” Cundiff said. “The city’s finances have not allowed these requests to be approved, but that is not the fault of Chief Jones.”

• The fire administration and fire union need to work together with the radio consultant to find a solution that is satisfactory.

• Human resources will be charged with the handling of all civil service testing.

Kittle felt he was being discriminated against due to his medical restrictions by being asked to fulfill all the duties of a fire lieutenant. “These restrictions, however, were not placed by a medical professional, but rather by Lt. Kittle himself,” Cundiff said. “In fact, the city’s doctor had released Lt. Kittle to full duty, but it was Chief Jones who agreed to temporarily accommodate Lt. Kittle by not having him respond to events happening between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.” Cundiff added that requiring Kittle to be seen by a medical professional to assess his fitness for full duty is not discrimination.

Kittle’s harassment allegation stemmed from a dispute about his mustache. Haller informed Kittle that he needed to trim his moustache to his jaw line in order for there to be a tight seal when wearing a breathing apparatus used in firefighting. Kittle also claimed Haller continued to make comments about his moustache in front of others.

“The investigation concluded that this claim of harassment over Lt. Kittle’s moustache was without merit as Deputy Chief Haller was following departmental policy and other fire personnel had received similar orders to trim their moustaches in order to have a tight seal,” Cundiff said.

The investigation did find broader issues involving fire personnel and administration. “Some of these issues, when taken alone, are not a major issue, and can be described as hurt feelings,” Cundiff said. “However, when taken together and discussed amongst the department, become a bigger issue impacting departmental morale.”

The issues deal with interpersonal communication, staffing, leadership, radios and promotional testing.

To read the city manager’s full report, go to the Sidney Daily News website, sidneydailynews.com, and click on the PDF attached to this story.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2015/10/Fire-Allegations-June-20151.pdf

By Michael Seffrin

mseffrin@aimmedianetwork.com

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.