Excessive use of “light-duty” work detail within Hall County Fire Services has prompted county officials to review and clarify a standing policy that restricts the availability of this work for full-time personnel in all departments.
It’s what led to the firing last month of three firefighters injured in a July 2014 training incident, and a few county officials spoke to The Times last week about this decision after backlash from readers and residents.
“The department took advantage of that,” Commissioner Jeff Stowe said, adding that the injured firefighters were never likely to return to active duty.
Stowe said there are instances, such as when maternity leave or job openings leave positions unfilled, where an injured employee can step in.
But the county is not in a financial position to effectively create light-duty work for employees who, for whatever reasons, cannot perform their full-time job, he added.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs said several firefighters in addition to the injured group had been on light-duty clerical and cleaning work for extended periods.
And that presented problems as full-time staffing levels in the department decreased.
In a January letter to the injured firefighters, Chief Jeff Hood said “a dire need remains to fill active-duty positions to improve departmental staffing levels.”
The county is already trying to limit attrition within the department as firefighters seek better pay and benefits in neighboring jurisdictions.
“If you can’t do the job you have, you can’t be a lifetime firefighter,” Gibbs said.
TJ Elliott, Will Griffin and Stephen Jackson suffered severe injuries in a July 22, 2014, training incident when the bucket atop a ladder truck they were in fell 44 feet.
They had not been medically cleared to return to active duty when their jobs were terminated.
County officials said they encouraged the three injured firefighters to apply for other jobs in local government, but some of the firefighters said physical limitations would keep them from performing those jobs, as well.
Stowe hinted that the firefighters would have been very qualified for many positions and likely to get whatever they applied for.
For example, he said one firefighter who had been working light duty for separate reasons moved on to become a 911 dispatcher.
“It’s not the county’s place or position to provide them with a job on top of workers’ compensation,” Gibbs said. “We just don’t create those positions.”