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Lynchburg city leaders say firefighter's association campaign was misleading

Campaign video suggested city use sidewalk funding for fire department instead

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LYNCNHBURG, Va. – Lynchburg city leaders are set to meet Tuesday night about next year's budget.

On the table for Tuesday night's discussion is the $9.9 million sidewalk project for Florida Avenue, which has been a lightning rod for controversy recently in the Hill City. 

10 News has been following this story since the Lynchburg Fire Association released a campaign video suggesting the city use the money to address the department's staff pay and shortages issues. 

The video has since stirred up controversy between city leaders and public safety officials -- leading the association to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act.  

City leaders say the association's campaign is misleading. 

"We want to work with the local, and it's just really unfortunate from my perspective that both myself, the fire chief, and City Council were blindsided this late in the budget process regarding concerns that the local had," said Bonnie Sverck, Lynchburg City Manager. 

The city released a memorandum from the fire chief and the deputy city manager that included the department's current numbers to 10 News. 

The memo addresses turnover, overtime and call volume. 

Below is the full statement from the city, and here is a copy of the memo itself: 

For several weeks, there has been a campaign led by the Lynchburg Firefighters Association regarding the Lynchburg Fire Department (LFD) about employee turnover, mandatory overtime and call volume. Unfortunately, some of the information shared with the public has been misleading. In order to clarify and correct certain information, Deputy City Manager Reid Wodicka and Fire Chief Greg Wormser sent a memorandum to City Council on April 23 that addresses the three main topics of turnover, overtime and call volume.

According to the memo, data shows that in the past five years, 23 firefighters retired and 24 left for higher paying positions, including two who took positions closer to their hometowns in Michigan and North Carolina. Eleven firefighters were dismissed or resigned due to unbecoming conduct, five left on disability and one death occurred in the line of duty. 

Chief Wormser and Deputy City Manager Wodicka also addressed mandatory overtime. In calendar year 2018, there were 52 occurrences of mandatory overtime of any length of time. Of those, 36 were full 24-hour mandatory overtime shifts. In one year, the LFD covered 16,790 
24-hour shifts. The use of a full mandatory overtime shift accounted for 0.2% of staffed shifts. The data clearly shows mandatory overtime occurrences has been much less than the public has been led to believe.

The memorandum also addressed call volume and explained that when call volume was evaluated, the highest volume occurred in 2014 by almost 500 calls. From 2015-2018, call volume remained relatively steady at just over 13,500 calls each year.  Through the end of the calendar year first quarter, the LFD is 100 calls ahead of pace from 2018. 

The concern is not as much a total number of calls; rather, it is the amount of time spent on each call. Uniformed members are highly trained and provide specialized treatment on scene which provides the patient with the best possible outcome for recovery. Consequently, this translates to longer documentation time which leads to decreased availability. 

Currently, information about this situation is anecdotal, and it is the City’s intention to complete an in-depth analysis of the circumstances. This is a very complicated issue relating to the needs of our community, the interaction with the hospital system, and a variety of other factors when properly studied, can lead to innovative and community-improving solutions.

In closing, the memorandum acknowledged there are issues to be addressed and that for several months, there has been discussions about forming a data analysis team with participation from internal and external stakeholders including representation from Local 1146 to make recommendations on a thoughtful and productive path forward for the Lynchburg Fire Department. That team is expected to begin this summer.


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