Township firefighter issues still hot

FLINT TWP. — The good news is that no more township on-call firefighters resigned this week, as has been the case at several board meetings in recent months.

Even better news is that that the township board has approved the conditional hiring of eight new on-call firefighters. They are Abner Anthony, Megan Dean, Aaron Graham, Susan Hudgins, Anthony Miller, David Sanders, Blake Selvig and Justin Snider.

To achieve probationary status, the new recruits still must meet several requirements including medical, fitness, and drug testing and successful completion of a training academy, said Fire Chief John Ringwelski.

He said that two additional applicants were eliminated because they did not pass a background check and two others based on results of an attitude test. Others were not included in the current pool because their applications arrived after deadlines to enroll in this year’s testing and training cycle, Ringwelski said.

The township began seeking on-call replacements about a month ago after trustees and residents voiced concerns about having enough staff to fight fires, in the wake of several resignations by disgruntled fire fighters, including longtime veterans.

At least five have resigned since June including the most recent by Kyle Allen, a 15-year firefighter, and Matt Keltner whose resignations letters were submitted at the Sept. 24 board meeting by union rep Kevin Clary,

Like those before them, Allen and Keltner cited dissatisfaction with department management and concerns for personal safety as chief reasons for leaving.

In a related matter, Trustee George Menoutes asked Township Supervisor Karyn Miller to appointee a committee of trustees and residents to meet with on-call firefighters in an effort to resolve ongoing animosity in the department.

“I think a good way to solve problems is to get together, to get heads together and come to a meeting of the minds so we don’t have the disgruntlement we have other there,” Menoutes said.

That led to a discussion about a recent meeting between Menoutes and Trustee Frank Kasle with several on-call firefighters.

Labeling it a “secret meeting,’’ Miller said it was not handled properly. She said that Trustees Barb Vert and Belenda Parker had been invited to that meting but declined to attend and that neither she, Clerk Kim Courts, the fire chief or the union rep were invited.

Miller also said that the department has experienced problems in the past regardless of who the chef was and that she was not convinced that appointing a committee would resolve them.. She said she would be consulting with the township labor attorney on how to proceed and if he recommends a committee she will follow through.

Kasle said he was offended by Miller labeling the meeting secret. He said he was invited to the meeting because he has publicly expressed concerns about problems in the department.

“When a group of employees want to meet with a trustee or two, they have a right to do it,” Kasle said. “There was no negotiating. Me and Mr. Menoutes were there to listen to them. The fire chief in the past has met with us separately. The police chief has met with us separately. I see nothing wrong or improper about a group of employees expressing their concerns to a trustee or two on this board.

We did not respond. We were just there for them to tell us their problems. I object to you calling it a secret meeting.”

Kasle went on to say that the meeting resulted in a list of 30 grievances that has been passed on to Miller and that she had agreed were issues needing to be addressed.

Kasle said he was not saying he believed everything the firefighters said nor making accusations against the fire chief but that some initiative needed to be taken by the board.

He noted that the fire chief’s contract comes up for renewal next month and should not be settled before the issues are laid to rest. Kasle said the township could not afford to continue losing on-call fire fighters and retain ability to respond to fires.

The township has 12 full-time firefighters and about 20 on-call staff, not including the 8 new hires, according to the most recent count provided.

Miller responded that she agreed there are issues needing to be resolved but not after hearing only side of the story.

“It takes two to have a conflict,” she said.

She said she would report back to the board after consulting with the labor attorney.

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