cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner
As stated in my most recent Blog, I have sought responses from both the firefighters and the Village officials involved in this situation. I am bringing one side of those issues to you today since I've only had the opportunity/response from that side of this situation to date. If and when the other side responds, I'll be sure to bring that information to the readers of this Blog.
I have visited with firefighters and EMTs over the past few days. I have developed some opinions as the result of this admittedly one-sided debate. I'll share the discussion points with you and try to make sense of what I've been able to pull together so far.
There are two points of view in the firefighter/EMT group of people. One side is what I'll label as the 'traditionalists' and the other is what I'll call the 'young turks'. There is a chief, Gary Pollpeter, who appears to be 'damned if he does and damned if he doesn't'. I frankly don't know if it is possible for that man to ever be able to find support from all his constituencies simultaneously...and I don't know that this is necessarily his fault in every instance. I have not found a full timer who doesn't express support, by the way.
The traditionalists are largely made up of those who were volunteers and are now part of the group known as 'Paid On Call'. These folks have recently formed their own union. (Curiously, the chief was not part of the negotiating team that put the agreement together. Also curious is that this agreement apparently contains changes to what the full time people are permitted to do as an obvious protection to the POCs. There is some confusion as to whether that agreement has actually been signed yet, but it appears that the pay scales have been put into place without that 'formality' and firefighter/EMTs have been told it is in place whether or not signed.)
The young turks are those who are full time firefighter/EMTs. They also have a union. They tend, with an exception or two, to have not been part of the traditionalists, who have been trained more recently and who are trying to move the department ahead, as they see that mission. That would explain some of the distrust that seems to exist between these two elements. I asked if this has shown itself in any way during actual emergencies and was told that was not the case. The two segments appear to work well together although there is some concern expressed as to the abilities of some POC members to respond as necessary to protect their brother/sister members in an emergency situation.
There have been points of agreement between the traditionalists and the young turks, as evidenced when the recent proposal to move to a higher level of fulltime firefighter/EMTs was developed. After the fact, it seems that some of the tradiltionalists changed their minds whether due to an epiphany or to pressure I'm not sure. There is an apparent apprehension in the ranks of traditionalists that the young turks are working to eliminate them and their positions, while the young turks claim that not to be true and point to the fact that it is increasingly difficult to recruit new volunteers, and that volunteers are less responsive to calls than would be desired by the full time people. They actually were quite pleased with the pay increase the POCs received recently.
There are quite a few different issues. Among those are whether or not physical ability testing is appropriate. There are traditionalists who might be in danger of being unable to satisfactorily complete the testing due to age if nothing else. The young turks are younger by definition. There is a schism as to whether or not professional firefighters and EMTs can continue to be permitted to serve if they do not participate in and successfully complete this testing. Frankly, if there are those who can no longer do what might be necessary from a physical perspective, I would not want to have them trying to rescue me or anyone else. I think the majority of Germantown's citzens would agree.
There seems to me to be a very real conflict of interest in terms of members of the Public Safety Committee. Trustee James Langer, chairman of this committee, is a member of the Paid On Call (POC) firefighter's group. Trustee Al Vanderheiden's brother Dick is a member of the POC firefighter's group. Vanderheiden is a committee member. I can imagine that the arguments in favor of this would claim that we need firefighter experience on the committee. That may be, but I have to ask the question of just how either person is able to view each and every situation dispassionately, and how they can be anything but at least a little biased in their positions. How can we have POC or full time firefighters sitting in judgement of the chief and department officers and other firefighters without some conflict being involved? If they're recusing themselves from every vote, maybe that works except that the committee is somewhat emasculated in that event. This gets to the point that President Kempinski made these appointments and can certainly 'unmake' them if he chooses.
There is a decided view that it is 'us' and 'them' in the department from what I've seen so far. Examples of the seemingly picayune things that have been done include the edict that the chief must park his vehicle outside the building even though an unobstructed inside space is available. How can the chief be expected to respond promptly if he has to fire up the vehicle and get out and remove snow and ice from the front and rear windows? I have not been able to see the wisdom of the village requiring that he cease being paid some $325 to $350 per month allowance in return for using his own vehicle. It is four wheel drive, he pays the insurance and all maintenance and fuel costs. Now he'll be driving a rear-wheel drive sedan with hundreds of thousands of miles on it that is unable to drive off-road. That will cost the village a great deal more than the previous allowance. Is this a wise decision or is it some how a vindictive move to further anger the chief in hopes he'll just pack it in and walk away?
Firefighters feel that few Germantown citizens are aware that we do not have a full time fire department, and they believe that if that were known the majority of citizens would desire a full time department even at a higher tax cost. We'll not know that since the trustees refused to permit a referendum to appear on the ballot in 2006 or thereabouts.
I learned that of the 42 POC firefighters, 37 are active members, 5 are inactive, 1 is on leave and 3 others are expected to quit entirely or take leaves. That means there are 36 POCs available with that number likely to dip to 33. I've asked if we could adequately man two large structure fires simultaneously without outside assistance. The answer was an unequivocal NO. I asked what the response in numbers was to the recent Ashbury complex garage fire and was told that there were 3 POCs who were present in addition to the full time people, and that Menomonee Falls provided three firefighters in mutual assistance. Given current staffing and POC turn-out, we can put one engine on the road but that requires one POC person to report, which he usually does, but what if he is out of the village?
It has become apparent to me in my conversations here and elsewhere that this dysfunctional environment is not unusual especially in communities our size. That having been said, I'd sure like to see us out from under that particular umbrella.
Again, please make comments voicing your opinion if you choose. If you are a village official and wish to set something straight or add to the subjects referenced, please do so either by comment here or by e-mail to me above.