1. #1
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    Default Chief's antics come under OSHA scrutiny!

    I was wondering if anyone else had seen this article. It was sent to me by a buddy.
    I have some strong opinions, but I'll abstain until the discussion, if there is any, is underway.
    From the Georgetown News-Graphic News:

    Thursday, August 7, 2003 Georgetown, Kentucky

    News-Graphic News

    OSHA warns of workplace violence at Scott Fire
    By CHAS J. HARTMAN
    8/6/03
    The Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Administration warned the Scott County Fiscal Court in a letter dated July 16, 2003, that “conditions and behaviors exist that could lead to a major confrontation between (County Fire) Chief (William) Willhoite and other (fire department) employees resulting in serious physical harm to the employees.”

    The letter, written by Tony Long, state director of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance, stated that investigations showed Willhoite hit one firefighter on the head, and on two other separate occasions Willhoite threw “hot coffee” on employees.

    The fire chief said proper procedures were followed in the hitting incident.

    “As far as me hitting the firefighter, I turned myself in, we used the administrative code and the firefighter didn’t want to press charges,” Willhoite said. “Everything was settled.”

    The chief said the coffee incident was a joke.

    “We were just horse-playing, and the coffee wasn’t hot,” Willhoite said. “It was cold, maybe lukewarm at best. I’m not going to throw hot coffee on someone.”

    In the one-page letter, Long writes, “Our investigation found that on Nov. 8, 2002, Chief William Willhoite did in fact hit a firefighter on the head. A witness stated that ‘the chief struck (the employee) on the head to get his attention’ and ‘(the employee) did appear upset about it.’ Another employee on the fire scene stated that Chief Willhoite told him that he (Willhoite) ‘had messed up.’
    In a statement Judge (George) Lusby made to CSHO Lancaster on May 12, 2003, he indicated that a meeting was held with Willhoite, the firefighter who was struck, and himself after the incident. No evidence of disciplinary action against the chief was offered to the Compliance Office as a sign of a good faith effort to address the issue of workplace violence. The employee who was struck, however, did produce a letter that he had signed stating he would not press charges against the chief.

    “Further investigation found on two separate occasions, Chief Willhoite threw hot coffee on employees. One of the instances occurred approximately six to nine months ago and was witnessed by other employees.
    When questioned about the incident, the person stated only that ‘the matter has been taken care of.’ The other instance occurred approximately one year ago. This was also witnessed by another employee,” the letter continued.

    The fire department was not cited or fined for any workplace violence incidents, because no OSHA standard applies and OSHA chose not to invoke the general duty clause in Kentucky Revised Statues 338.031(1), Long states in the letter. That clause requires employers furnish a workplace without hazards causing death or serious injury.

    “We strongly recommend that steps be taken to address these situations either by implementation of an effective disciplinary procedure or policy. If the conditions and behaviors are allowed to continue then the general duty clause could possibly be invoked,” the compliance director writes. Willhoite said the county followed its disciplinary policies.

    “We have that in the administrative code and it was followed,” Willhoite said. “I don’t know why OSHA wrote that.”

    Scott County firefighters union president Lt. Robert Hutchins declined comment on OSHA’s workplace violence findings.

    A county magistrate was not familiar with the OSHA letter.

    “Obviously we want all of our employees to be safe,” county magistrate Anna Isaacs said. “I don’t think I can say anything more than that at the present time.”

    Due to personal reasons, Judge-Executive George Lusby was unavailable for comment.
    Did I actually scoop NJFFSA on this one?
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  2. #2
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    Default

    Well I think we are once again dealing with info out of context here, but I'll toss in my two cents anyway.

    For item 1, the smack to the firefighter, I think this may need some clarification. Did he lightly cuff a sleeping or inattentive firefighter on the helmet to wake him up or get his attention? I have to admit I've done the same on a few occasions. I've probably even tossed a glove/chalkboard brush or other soft object in a recruit class to get someone's attention (for the second/third/fourth time). I choose not to pass judgement on that one without more info.

    For item 2, the hot (or cold, whichever) coffee thrown on firefighters, I think that is out of hand regardless of the context. Hot coffee would be assault, and even cold coffee is an insult to the firefighter. If an officer had done that to me during my recruit days, I would have definitely raised a stink.

    I happen to have spent my early years in the era of old school military discipline, where you weren't politely asked to do something. You did it or you paid the price. I have had to make a concious effort to soften my approach these days, but I still believe when you are learning life and death lessons soft and cuddly doesn't always make the point.

    I think the fact that there are several bad acts committed by this Chief suggest that he has a problem that needs some attention. Discipline may have to be part of that process, but either way I hope the Chief can recognize his mistakes and correct them.
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!

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    Default

    It sounds like he wants to be one of the boys. This kind of physical horseplay shouldn't be allowed and as a chief he should know better.
    The guys should have just told him, "hay, enough is enough" before going to OSHA.
    "the firefighter didn’t want to press charges," the board should have demoted him or just plain threw his butt out.
    He sounds like a liability to me.

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    Default A little different spin here

    Bones42,
    I pm'ed the Chief regarding this because I respect his opinion. The article posted here by the good Chief was part of the thread that you have included. My reason for bringing it to the Chiefs attention is that when I saw that article it made my blood boil, and I was suprised by the lack of comment from others in this business. I believed that this part of the story was buried too deep in that thread and was just asking for his opinion.

    In reading the article that the Chief posted, the OSHA fines are just one part of what I see as an inherent and pervasive attitude of employee harrasment by the Chief. Dropping a dime on this guy to OSHA appears as the only way that these employees knew of to reign him in. This guy is a bully, and no one should have to put up with his crap!

    Hitting anyone on the head regardless of how hard or throwing coffee on someone to get their attention or for horseplay is not appropriate or ethical for any professional officer. It is demeaning to the employee and is inappropriate behavior for a fire chief. And because we have done it in the past doesn't make it right.

    Appropriate discipline for poor personnel behavior NEVER involves physical contact by the officer, and discipline should NEVER be handled in front of others. It should be done in private away from others and out of their hearing and sight.

    First rule for ethical behavior is to treat others as you wish to be treated. The OSHA story is just the top of what appears to be a very bigger issue here. Is it silly for one government agency to take money away from another? YES. But it is just as stupid and silly to have a person like this as the boss! OSHA coming to this department is this fire chiefs just rewards for treating his personnel like dirt.
    Last edited by glowpop; 08-08-2003 at 10:01 AM.

  6. #6
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    Smile Hello, Anybody Home?..........

    Could I detect, hidden between the lines, an attempt by the union to bring in some outside help? It sounds, on the surface, that this department has some very real problems that absolutely must be addressed by someone with no local political ties. When this story first came to the forums, I went into my screaming, desk pounding mode over the fact that fines were being levied by OSHA. I still feel that this is wrong, taking money out of one government pocket to put it in another, BUT, that said, this mess needs to be cleaned up. My Question, to add to the discussion, "Can OSHA order the County Government to replace the Fire Chief?" Also "What can OSHA do to force the County to provide proper quarters and equipment for their employees?" My guess is that this is only the beginning..... Stay Safe....
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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    Arrow

    Well, it may not always be as it appears in the press. it may be interesting to tell you that of the three incidents (2 coffee and hitting the firefighter) listed, the OSHA investigator did not talk to 2, if not all three of the "victims" involved. the recipients of the cold coffee laugh about the incidents and circumstances surrounding the events. (I will not go into the details, as I am a firm believer that if the public were to know all that goes on inside a firehouse, we would all be in a huge PR nightmare, resulting in adult supervision)
    the firefighter involved in the striking incident is ready to explode due to the undue and, in his view, improper publicizing of something between him and the chief that has been settled to his satisfaction. face it, they know the situation and details, how can we judge?
    yes, there were violations. by the way, which do you follow in assigning your 2-in/2-out personnel. there is a conflict between the CFR 1910 and NFPA 1500 on that. I always thought that firefighters should be smart enough to not taste the product in the spray bottle to see if it is toilet bowl cleaner or window cleaner. (they are both kinda blue, ya see) Do you really read every MSDS on the household cleaners you use???
    some things have been very well said in previous replys to this thread. the chief longs for the day that we all got along, and he could be one of the boys and still do the chief's gig. and yes,the infant union local is trying to make someone stand up and take notice, but i fear the exposure is going to set them back a whole lot of political capital by the time this is over. In KY, they could have asked for an OSHA review, and fixed the problems without fines, etc. or they could have just asked, made their concerns known (don't believe everything you read about how they have begged for corrections to safety concerns...) and the chief, as he has done for as long as there have been career firefighters and enough money in the budget, would have taken care of it.
    was his behavior acceptable, not by a long shot, but, more importantly, was it MALICIOUS? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
    as I read the media accounts, i marvel at the one sided observations. but as one that has been around that particular place for a long time, i will tell you this. if you believe the accounts as written, then you also believed it when Bill Clinton claimed innocence dealing with the white house interns....

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