Firefighters Protest Physical Fitness Rules; Many Cry Politics
Marianna Riley Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Firefighters in the Chesterfield Fire Protection District say the physical fitness program the district's directors want is unfair and punitive.
The directors say a strictly voluntary physical fitness program won't be followed and that taxpayers deserve firefighters who can endure the stress of their work.
At a meeting of the directors Monday, firefighters packed into the small meeting room and spilled out into the hallway.
Many were angry and several suggested they were being punished for speaking out against the directors' actions last year to change their dispatching agency.
That change, to South County Fire Alarm Association, from Central County Emergency 911, generated controversy throughout the district. The move took effect in January.
Board president Mark Slaten called the notion that the physical fitness test was punitive and related to the dispatching issue "nonsense."
He added that directors were willing to consider another plan if the firefighters presented one. He defended the built-in penalties in the board's proposal. "What is the incentive if there is no penalty for not performing?" he asked.
He also deplored what he said was a $90,000 increase in expenditures for workers compensation claims for workers hurt on the job.
"No matter how experienced you are, if you're physically incapable of doing the job, it doesn't matter," he said.
Firefighters said privately that the strenuous test the Chesterfield board wants to use to measure fitness could kill someone.
In fact, said Bruce Williams, president of the firefighters' local in the city of St. Louis, a 28-year man died after collapsing while taking the test about two years ago.
Known as the Phoenix Test because it was developed in that city, the test is mostly used for new recruits, firefighters say. "If someone died during the exam at the entry level, can you imagine the stress for an individual who is taking it to keep his job?" Williams asked the board.
But Slaten responded that the firefighters will be given almost two years to get in shape for the test and, since the Phoenix Test is used by the St. …