Johnson City firefighters say they’re discouraged, call out city manager

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Johnson City firefighters say they continue to have serious questions about their chief’s ability to lead, the city’s response to their concerns and the city manager’s “ability to overlook major internal problems within the fire department.”

For the first time since city management addressed internal issues within the fire department, Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association leaders are responding, saying members are discouraged.

“To have our statements and concerns discredited was very discouraging, but we’re not going to allow that to affect the services that we provide to the city,” JCPFA Public Information Officer Christopher Ward said.

A 2015 internal investigation found evidence that Fire Chief Mark Scott possibly abused a subordinate by his use of profanity or abusive language, but the city manager said the findings did not warrant disciplinary action, even though city policy suggests otherwise.

“Mr. Peterson has ignored city policy when it comes to the disciplinary guidelines put in place for abuse of a subordinate,” JCPFA President Charlie Ihle said in a statement.

In an interview with us, City Manager Pete Peterson also dismissed concerns about low morale shared by newer firefighters all the way to experienced, ranking officers. Even the department’s two assistant chiefs acknowledged the issue.

“I don’t think it’s an epidemic as perhaps some of the folks in the fire bureau would like to present it to be,” Peterson previously said.

JCPFA took issue with those comments and the city’s overall response. According to Ward, the association’s 92 members are all pretty much on the same page on this issue. He says that’s roughly 85% of the entire department.

“This is not a small group of individuals voicing their opinion about low morale as City Manager Peterson stated,” Ihle said. “It’s simply not an isolated group who question (morale). The new recruits heard debilitating talks from Chief Scott and the two highest ranking individuals directly below the chief said morale was low. We believe in this instance that morale can be defined as a lack of a clear plan for the future of the department.”

As we reported last week, the fire chief isn’t eligible for full retirement until March 2017. According to the city manager, the city plans on offering more training opportunities to help train the future leaders of the department.

According to a spokesperson for the city, the fire chief held a regularly scheduled staff meeting today, in which he discussed general department matters like the budget, upcoming projects and training opportunities. According to the spokesperson, the chief said “overall it was a positive meeting.”

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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