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Sunday, July 28, 2019

City Hall is abusing Cheyenne's firefighters

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
The controversies, unfulfilled promises to and exploitation of Cheyenne Fire and Rescue is like Cheyenne Superday on steroids. In a nutshell, leaders purposely make their department fail, and the mayor constantly tells them to "kick rocks." 
The fire chief will have been in Cheyenne and leading this circus for two years in September. Upon his arrival, he was immediately notified that the biggest issue was the balance of qualifications among the three shifts. One shift had 14 paramedics, another had six. It
doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the people working the six-paramedics shift accumulated tons of overtime when shift mates were on comp time, vacation, sick or hurt. 
This poor management cost the city thousands upon thousands of dollars. The shift size inequities were finally resolved after about 15 months.
Not only did changes happen with paramedics, but they also occurred for those who had stepped up into driving and leadership roles. So one shift would have paramedic overtime, another would have driving overtime, etc. 
Firefighters made good money on the extra hours worked, but those lead to burnout and other issues. While many members work 100, 200, 500 extra hours in a year, the mayor had the nerve to tell City Council members, the Legislature and others, "OMG! Look at these paychecks! Look at what these guys are making!" 
Oh, but she forgot to include the data on all the extra hours these folks worked. 
Only the best for the second-most important CFD in the city. Yeah, Cheyenne Fire Department. 
This year started off as a shit show when the mayor spoke in front of the Legislature to get rid of the firefighters union two weeks before negotiations got under way. Nothing says "collective bargaining" like a Monday night meeting at the Jonah Building with a prison shank approach.
The next game was to destroy all the ranks, including those applying for the positions.
When engineers try to promote to lieutenants, and lieutenants to battalion chiefs, certain books have always been used to test them on their abilities. Well with 30 days’ notice to the exams, about 1,000 pages of study materials were added. Not a single person passed the battalion chiefs’ test, and only one the lieutenants’ test. 
So how would they screw with firefighters wanting to be drivers (engineers)? Simple. The International Fire Service Training Association’s driver operator book that Wyoming uses to certify drivers – a book that was also used to test firefighters on the promotional exam – was mysteriously retired. You read 900 pages of IFSTA to be Wyoming certified, but a different 900-page book to get promoted. 
The engineer list always had 8-14 people on it, now it has four. 
The saddest example of this mess was setting up the entrance exam for failure. In the past decade, Cheyenne Fire went from 140 to 44 people signing up to join its team. The test was advertised hardly at all. The only way you were going to see it was to have liked their Facebook page, which is managed by firefighters.
The administration put zero effort into getting recruits to test. Even though a list of 44 interested and qualified local fire volunteers, veterans, paramedics, nurses and college athletes existed, the fire chief made comments like, “Do we even have five qualified people on the list?”
So why are they stalling on recruits, promotional exams, etc.? Because the chief and his puppet of an “acting chief” have pulled Cheyenne Fire and Rescue from the Front Range academy and have no plans in place to train new hires. 
A battalion chief told the administration in June of 2018 that he was having surgery that month and then would be retiring immediately afterward. He retired last September, and he still hasn't been replaced. By the time they get a firefighter in that empty spot, it will be nearly Christmas – 18 months after his forewarning. 
That also means somebody off the previous hiring exam missed their fair chance to become a firefighter. The acting chief said there “just wasn't enough time.”  I guess there isn't when you don't care enough to think about, or care about, recruitment. 
When the suppression chief left the department in August of 2018, an exam was set up for his replacement. Only a lieutenant in prevention passed. But he was never given the position. It was given to a "yes man" who never took the test or even signed up. 
The chief and acting suppression chief have run things into the ground ever since. Faults in the promotion exams, going against the contract and policies, telling the union one thing and battalion chiefs something different to cause heartache, missing managing hires and budgets, and the list goes on and on.
Cheyenne Fire and Rescue has a system of calling in a rotating order for overtime. If everyone declines the offer, then someone is forced in. This might happen once or twice a year, in years past, but it has happened over a dozen times this year. Firefighters don't even want to work at a time-and-half rate due to low morale and bad leadership. 
The constant hatred from the mayor and absent leadership style of the chief and acting chief has run its course and cost Cheyenne enough.
Some other quick fun facts:
1 – The mayor has tried to prevent the firefighters from going to local events on duty. For years a fire engine was sent to Friday Nights on the Plaza to show the truck to kids and be in the area of a crowd that might need their assistance. 
The mayor has recently requested they don't do that, that they just go down and hang out with their friends. I guess good PR is only reserved for the chief executive,  not the life-saving foot soldiers.
2 – Until this last year, Fire Station 6 had carpet that was about 37 years old and had never been professionally cleaned. These guys work around nasty chemicals, blood, vomit and many other disgusting things, and their carpet gets walked on 24-7-365. As far as I know, that 37-year-old shag was only vacuumed daily by a firefighter. 
Donations came in to resolve this embarrassing issue, but the new hodgepodge of carpet and tiles looks a lot like the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
3 – The Cheyenne Fire Department administration was caught up in a 45-minute debate over what shirts to wear in the Frontier Days parade. Yet it still didn’t know what radio signal to use in case of emergency at the event. 
4 – The mold and decay resulting from the hot, putrid air exhaled during the mayor's 2016 campaign tour still haunts Station 3. And choking exhaust is still blowing into the living quarters in Station 5. 
We all knew things were going to be awful for the firefighters when they endorsed Amy Surdam for mayor in 2016. The current mayor believes in payback – and she follows through. It’s not like past mayors helped. They were whispering in the ear of Cheyenne's first female mayor about the firefighters union faster than the fresh chip seal oil and rock separate on their namesake street. 
To the men in red who read this piece, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have hundreds more stories than even the ones mentioned here. 
You deserve so much better. Maybe if you’re lucky, the city will subscribe you to the failing newspaper or mow the grass like they do in front of other city buildings. 
If the new hot shot car dealer really wants to impress folks in this town, how about donating some funds toward a new fire truck? All it takes is a zero-dollar bid when Purchasing sends out the request. 
It’s going to take a bit more than Black Dog Rescue calendars and appearances in parades to raise the morale of Cheyenne's first responders. 

Richard Johnson is a former City Council member from Ward 3 on Cheyenne’s east side. 

2 comments:

  1. Good Lord, how did there get to be so many problems. May be a chief with the knowledge and backbone could get the operations balanced out! The present mayor is way out of her element and I sure hope all the bad moves she has made are remembered at election time. Good grief Charlie Brown

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