The Herald Bulletin

June 12, 2013

Email about ambulance mechanical problems draws critical response

Union rep concedes he may have jumped the gun with message

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

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ANDERSON — Firefighter Cody Leever wishes he could take back — or rewrite — an email he sent earlier this week to City Council members complaining about mechanical and maintenance problems with city ambulances.

Leever is the new president of Local 1262 of the International Association of Firefighters. While he raised what many consider legitimate concerns about how much money is available to keep equipment operating properly, his message also contained a threat of political retaliation.

On Monday, Anderson Fire Department was operating with two instead of the usual three ambulances because its primary medic trucks were already sidelined with mechanical troubles, two backup ambulances developed problems, and a third had to be removed from service and decontaminated because it was infested with bedbugs during a run.

"Although these situations could not be controlled by us or our front office, they could be better planned for especially if we had some more maintenance/repair or replacement funding," Leever wrote to City Councilman Anthony Bibbs, D-at large, among others.

Money for equipment repair and replacement historically comes from ambulance fees collected by the city.

That changed last fall as the City Council was working on a solution to avoid nearly two dozen layoffs in the department. To minimize the actual number of layoffs to less than 10, the council took money earmarked for maintenance and applied it to salaries, according to Chief Philip Rogers.

He added that the public was in no danger on Monday. Every emergency call was answered promptly, using private ambulance services if necessary, and repairs on the out-of-service vehicles were completed by Tuesday afternoon, he said.

In addition, he said the department is working on a plan to revamp city ambulance fees. The union is part of that working group.

It was the tone of Leever's message, especially a paragraph near the end when he seemed to threaten Mayor Kevin Smith and members of the City Council with political retaliation if they didn't support firefighter aims that appeared to rub recipients the wrong way.

Leever noted that the union has started what he called a "massive" public relations campaign, and has gained enough support in the past few months to make a difference in the next campaign cycle. He said the union is prepared to use mass email and text messages to alert supporters about council member actions and votes on public safety issues.

The threat was clear: "We ultimately want our friends to remain seated and remain our friends, and those who have not supported us in the past to either start supporting our issues, or face the possibility of us working against them."

Reached by telephone for comment Tuesday morning, Leever initially seemed surprised anyone might interpret comments in the message threatening, adding that he sent the message because "I think the council should be aware of these issues."

It's not clear if that was before or after Bibbs issued a testy reply to Leever's message.

In it, Bibbs said the Fire Department executive staff had shared a user fee increase proposal with the council, calling it thorough, "diplomatic and respectful," and something he might consider supporting if it came before the council.

"As a result of your delivery style/tone, I do believe that I will have to revisit supporting such a proposal should it come before the council," Bibbs said.

By afternoon, after talking with members of the council, Leever said his intent was to never be perceived as threatening members of the council.

"I jumped the gun on the email," Leever concluded.

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