Memo asks fire chief to follow policy

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Austin firefighters help Inside Out with hanging their art project on the south end of Austin High School this past October, bringing their aerial unit to hang the higher photos. -- Herald file photo

Fire Chief Mickey Healey received a memo — which he referred to as a reprimand — from City Administrator Jim Hurm for using the fire department’s ladder truck to help Inside Out hang its photography project at Austin High School in October.

The memo, dated Oct. 31, is attached to a copy of the city policy about the authorized use of fire department vehicles. The policy states the emergency response apparatus should only be used for official fire department business.

“Please keep this procedure posted and refer to it when you receive a request such as helping with placing pictures on the exterior wall of the high school,” Hurm’s memo states.

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Healey said he took the memo as a written reprimand, but Hurm said it was an educational piece of information and not a reprimand.

“The whole point there isn’t that he did something wrong,” Hurm said. “We have this policy and we should go by this policy. There’s no discipline in any of this stuff. It’s just sort of an education piece and a communication piece.”

“If we’re going to have continued requests for equipment that is not consistent with the City Council’s policy, we need to come up with suggestions for the policy,” he added.

Healey said the memo seemed like a reprimand to him because he has used the ladder truck for non-fire department related business before.

“In past practice we’ve hung lights down at Bandshell Park for Freedom Fest and we’ve used it to change lanyards. I didn’t think it would be out of what past practice would have been,” Healey said.

He said he ensured enough firefighters were on duty at the station to handle an emergency while he used the ladder truck to help with the photography project.

Hurm said he wasn’t aware of other instances in which the ladder truck was used for non-emergencies and said all he wanted was for Healey to ask permission from council, per the policy’s request. Communication was key in the situation, Hurm said, and there was a lack of it.

“The history is that the working relationship between the city and the fire department has been strained, and we’re working to correct a lot of things,” Healey said.