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Council nixes fire code changes

October 10, 2012
By LINDA HARRIS - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

WEIRTON - Upset they weren't involved in the process before it was presented to them for a vote, Weirton City Council Tuesday nixed proposed major changes in the fire civil service code.

"This isn't some small tweak they're making," Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple said. "This is major legislation, and to slide it under the door, essentially (is upsetting)."

The changes, passed at the Fire Civil Service Commission's September meeting, would have separated departmental regulations from the actual Weirton Fire Department Civil Service Code.

When asked for an explanation, Commission member Joe Stankiewicz, in the audience at Tuesday's city council meeting, said they'd merely tried to reorganize the rules and regulations governing fire personnel. He said the change would remove departmental rules from civil service commission rules, something city firefighters "have been after a long time."

Council initially voted to table the proposed ordinance, but was forced to rethink its decision when it was pointed out that if no action was taken by them within 20 days of the civil service commission recommendation "it becomes the rule." That 20-day clock would have run out in four days, not enough time for them to meet with commission members to learn more about the proposal and return it to the council floor for a vote.

"Table it and it takes effect anyway in four days," City Manager Valerie Means said.

Faced with the prospect of the decision being taken out of their hands, council voted to reconsider the proposal and then voted 5-1 against adopting the changes.

"The Civil Service Commission did not have the courtesy to sit down with us," Ward 4 Councilman George Ash said. "We don't have all the information. I don't want to support something like this (without it)."

Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel cast the lone vote in favor of the rules change. Ward 1's Ron Jones was not at the meeting.

In other action, Mayor George Kondik was forced to cast the tie-breaking vote on the fire department's request to bring a national expert in for a fire safety training program.

Chief Jerry Shumate said the program would teach firefighters, among other things, how to "look at a structure and determine what a fire is doing." He acknowledged the training takes them "above and beyond" anything that's currently available in-state, and said funding for it would come from the department's budget.

Ash, though, questioned the need to bring an outside expert in since the department has already asked council to authorize the hiring of a training officer.

"I thought we were going to wait until we decided if we were going to have a training officer or not?" Ash asked.

Shumate, however, pointed out that the seminar presenter's level of expertise "is well above what anybody in the state" can offer.

"I think when the training officer does come to fruition, it's going to make his job a little easier," Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh said.

Means pointed out the program would help address shortcomings found in the community's last Insurance Services Office audit.

"Part of the results of that study was that we were lacking in training and in record keeping," she said. "This would bring training up to speed and assist with the (upcoming) ISO audit."

Means said the in-house training officer would be able to bring the department up to "the bare minimum, but this will get us above and beyond" that level.

Council also:

Approved purchase of two Rapid Intervention Team packs for the fire department, which will provide an emergency air supply in the event a firefighter is trapped in a burning building; authorized the annual aerial service inspection of the fire department's tower trucks, and signed off on the purchase of a treadmill and weights for the Gilson Avenue fire station, needed to comply with on-the-job fitness requirements for firefighters.

Accepted a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hazard mitigation grant for the project, which will allow them to acquire a number of flood-prone properties on Willow Street. Properties on the creek side of Willow Street are eligible for the program, under which existing structures would be demolished and replaced with green space. The city would have until 2015 to complete acquisition and demolition of the properties.

Passed ordinances extending yellow "no parking" areas on Pike and Dickson streets and painting a single center line on a 125-foot section of McHendry Street, all on an emergency basis.

Passed a resolution to place liens to recover costs incurred in demolition of properties on Orr Street and Cove Road.

Signed off on the purchase of six personal computers for various departments as well as new duty pistols for city police.

Designated two handicapped parking spaces on Sunday's only at the First United Methodist Church, 3301 West St.

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