Council member Hezikiah Walker asked for a review of the policies and procedures for adding a new firefighter to the department.
More than a year ago Walker applied to be a member of the department. Fire Chief Chris Edwards said Walker has refused to take the physical test required to join the department, while Walker said he believes he could add value to the department as a rescue volunteer to assist the department rather than fighting the fires.
“We answer more calls that just house fires or brush fires,” Walker said. “We answer accident calls, we answer other types of calls. In stormy situations we answer calls whereas we go out and assist people to get people getting from point A to point B.”
He pointed to the recent difficulties with ice and snow on roadways as an instance where rescue personnel were needed, but firefighter training would not have been required.
“There is nothing I’m trying to do to create anything new,” Walker said. “I’m trying to open up the possibility to more people that might want to volunteer to assist the city in rescue-type missions.”
Mayor Randy Stephens suggested the possibility of using available federal funds to start a separate rescue squad that would not have “fire” in the title. A suggestion Walker called “offensive,” likening it to segregation and implying that the idea was racist. He also said duplicating an existing department did not make sense for the city.
Stephens said that was not his intention, nor was it racially motivated, but he was looking for a solution that would allow more citizens to be involved in some way.
Council member George Sides Jr. spoke up in support of Walker, saying he believed the department should be more open and not so restrictive in its admission policies.
He suggested that the department could restrict those volunteers who are not firefighters to staying a certain distance from a fire scene to ensure their safety.
“You’ve never been a fire chief, and you don’t know how it is to command a fire scene either,” Edwards said. “You have to have qualified people that are trained. It’s a little more difficult to do than you think.”
“I agree I have not been a fire chief, but it all goes down to leadership,” Sides replied.
“Then how about y’all just drop this and let me lead the fire department and y’all manage your council business,” Edwards said.
As the two continued to argue, council member Gary Thomas spoke up.
“What’s so hard to go up there and take the test?” Thomas said. “There is a test that everybody has taken, go take the test if you want to be in the department. Either go take the test and let that be it or forget about it and lets move on.”
As the discussion deteriorated, members of the audience and council members argued until the mayor was able to return the meeting to order.
The council ultimately decided to take no action on changing the department’s policies.
The council did vote to approve new firefighter Hollie Edwards to the department. Sides and Walker voted against the addition, due to their disagreement with the current policy of adding new members.
In other business, the council:
• approved the purchase of two more cameras to be worn by the department’s police department. Last month, the council purchased two as a trial. Police Chief John Duchock said the department was pleased with the quality of the cameras and believes they will help safeguard the officers and city if there is ever a question about how something was handled.
• discussed a new golf course promotion that would allow members of the city-owned golf course to purchase an unlimited number of range balls for a year for $180. Golf Course Manager Don Cummings said he hopes it will encourage people to use the driving range, instead of practicing on the greens.
• decided to renew the city’s insurance through Byars Insurance company because they felt they did not have time to consider another proposal from Russell Insurance in Dora. The current insurance was set to expire on Saturday, if not renewed.