Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Ex-Fire Chief Criticizes TFD ; Wayne Says Technology, Training, Recruitment Lacking in Scathing Assessment

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Ex-Fire Chief Criticizes TFD ; Wayne Says Technology, Training, Recruitment Lacking in Scathing Assessment

Article excerpt

The Topeka Fire Department is in "maintenance mode," former interim fire Chief Tim Wayne wrote in a recent report, and lacks adequate technology, training and recruitment.

The department also relies heavily on overtime hours and a perception exists among the firefighter ranks that excessive sick leave goes unchecked while promotions are controlled in a "good old boy" system, the report indicates.

Wayne authored the detailed, often highly critical, 52-page report that was made public Friday.

"There is a perception the fire department is resistant to change," he wrote.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, city manager Jim Colson and new interim fire Chief Richard Sigle Jr. addressed the study. Both said Wayne's assessment provided an opportunity for the department to examine itself.

"This isn't an attack on the Topeka Fire Department," Colson said. "Change is difficult for a lot of people. We take a close look at what we're doing and we become better at it."

Wayne left his position as interim fire chief in mid-August to return to Goodyear, Ariz. He was loaned by that city to Topeka, which paid Goodyear $13,600 each month in return.

Colson's move to bring Wayne in as a "fresh set of eyes" was met with criticism from council and community members and for a limited time faced a lawsuit.

"I paid great political and personal cost to bring Tim Wayne here," Colson said. "I think it was one of the best things we could have done of this department."

Before he left, Wayne conducted a first-of-its-kind survey of Topeka firefighters, about half of whom responded. Within the 101 responses, Wayne found a belief that TFD management plays favorites and seniority dominates.

"Some respondents believe seniority negatively impacts the quality of promotions," Wayne said.

His report suggested moving away from seniority-based promotions to a system that uses panel and one-on-one interviews along with skills demonstrations.

The current model, partially because of vacancies and partially because of sick leave, relies too much on overtime and callback to staff stations.

By July, TFD had already spent nearly $80,500 on call back salaries. Wayne predicted that by year's end, $250,000 would be spent. Last year TFD spent more than $496,000 paying employees to return.

Meanwhile, an average of 2.8 firefighters use sick leave per shift with spikes on weekends, especially Saturdays, during the summer and on holidays. Fire captains use the bulk of the department's sick leave. Nearly 30 percent, or about 59 employees, have exceeded the amount of sick leave accrued in a six-month period.

This overuse of sick leave exists despite a provision in the union contract to prevent it, Wayne's report said, because management has not "exercised its right to effectively manage the use of sick leave."

Employees exceeding accrued sick leave should be subject to review and counseled, Wayne suggested.

"Invoking this management right should have a significant impact on the call back budget," he wrote.

Overtime usage is a budget issue, Colson said, that should be addressed by looking at the department's structure and management practices.

"We need to make sure we're holding people accountable," he said.

Some firefighters said morale is low, due in part to poor upkeep of fire stations. Wayne found firefighters have been furnishing their stations with couches, tables and chairs from their own homes.

Most members of the emergency medical services division, or EMS, have not had a physical in more than two years, according to Wayne, placing employees "in a potentially harmful situation."

The bulk of TFD's service calls, nearly 80 percent, are medical in nature. …

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