GREENVILLE — Greenville City Council Members discussed issues regarding the city’s fire department at a work session held Tuesday morning.
Council Members Tracy Tryon, Todd Oliver and Steve Willman convened a meeting of an ad hoc committee to explore options related to the potential retirement of Assistant Fire Chief Dave McDermitt this summer.
In a separate conversation with The Daily Advocate, McDermitt said he had not officially decided to retire so no date for retirement had been set.
Among the questions explored by the ad hoc committee included whether or not to hire a replacement for the assistant fire chief position as it currently exists; eliminating the position entirely with the duties spread among existing fire department members; or hiring part time employees to perform the job duties.
Further, the question over the assistant fire chief position is framed within a larger debate regarding the future of the city’s fire department, with proposals being considered for the creation of a joint fire district in conjunction with Greenville Township Fire Department. Last year, a council committee shot down a proposal which would have created a separate city EMS service in competition to the township’s EMS.
Committee Chair Tryon asked if the city could outsource the assistant chief’s current duties to retired personnel on a part-time basis.
In response, Safety/Service Director Curt Garrison, noting that the assistant fire chief position is one of the busiest jobs in the department, said, “The possibility exists, but the reality doesn’t exist.”
Garrison said the department is already tightly staffed, and that as things stand, fire inspections — one job duty of the position — have fallen behind and may suffer further if the full-time position is eliminated.
From the audience, Greenville City Council Member Clarence Godwin asked how far behind inspections have fallen. Greenville Fire Chief Mark Wolf, also in the audience, said that inspections currently are about 50 percent behind.
Wolf also pointed out that some inspections are required by state law and done in conjunction with the state, and can’t be postponed.
A letter from Mayor Mike Bowers submitted to the committee shared his belief that the position of assistant fire chief “has a significant role in the future of the department.”
“Inspection duties as listed in the job description are a critical function for the Assistant Chief,” Bowers wrote. “We have had an unprecedented increase in the manufacturing sector in the City of Greenville in the last five years. From simply this manufacturing sector growth, not to mention areas in the commercial sector, fire inspections should be a priority for the fire department.”
Garrison said the committee’s recommendation should be a matter of setting priorities.
“How important do we feel this to the city?” he asked. “The question is, is this the position we want to start making cuts?”
Tryon requested that Garrison, in coordination with the fire department, submit more detailed explanations of the position, including the assistant chief’s current duties, the possibility of outsourcing the work, the current structure of the department, as well as the potential economic impact under a number of proposed scenarios.
The committee is scheduled to meet again at 10 a.m. on March 22 in council’s chambers to further discuss the matter. Committee work sessions are open to the public.
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