Council Member: City Time Off Policy Impacting Public Safety

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(Memphis) The Memphis fire department says trucks are out of service because it doesn't have the money to staff them.

One city councilman says the city's time off policy is causing big problems.

News channel 3 dug into the city's policy and the numbers may surprise you.

A battalion chief goes around and checks in with firefighters who call in to see if they're OK or really sick.

Saturday, three trucks were taken out of service because 44 firefighters called in sick.

Mayor A C Wharton's administration claims the fire department is having to brownout the trucks because of budget cuts, but Councilman Kemp Conrad claims if so many people didn't call in sick, the department wouldn't have to pay overtime.

“In the past when employees did not get pay raises the pay time off policy expanded and expanded. So we have a very generous vacation policy,” said Conrad.

Conrad says the Memphis Fire Department has to take trucks out of service because so many firefighters are calling in sick and the sick day policy is broken.

“There are so many paid time and days off, you have to have a lot more people in the compliment to provide services because they are out so much,” said Conrad.

The longer you work for the city, the more sick days you accrue.

If someone has been with the city for five years, they get ten vacation days in addition to 13 holidays and 12 sick days a year.

If they never use a sick day, they roll over, accruing to 60 sick days and the possibility of 83 days off in a year.

It goes much higher the longer you work for the city.

That doesn't include the bonus days city workers can earn every year for not using vacation days.

Emergency personnel say they often need the time due to work related injuries.

The Memphis Fire department says any time it has to take a truck out of service because of staffing it's a gamble.

“In one word it comes down to risk... assuming more risk,” said Fire Director Alvin Benson.

The fire department says it’s averaging about 35 out of 1,600 fire fighters out sick a day this month.

I spoke with Mayor Wharton’s office who says it is looking into the accusations of abuse and is in discussions about possibly changing that policy.


  • Mandalore

    You did not thoroughly vet this story and it’s obvious that you are once again trying to bait public service employees. A thorough analysis would have compared sick rates of the various city divisions and then perhaps compared them to another city the size of Memphis.
    “In the past when employees did not get pay raises the pay time off policy expanded and expanded. So we have a very generous vacation policy,” said Conrad. When did this happen and what were the totality of the circumstances?
    Conrad says the Memphis Fire Department has to take trucks out of service because so many fire fighters are calling in sick. Did your reporter ask Conrad to substantiate this allegation?
    Police & Fire employees are no better than anyone else but they are different. If they get hurt off duty they cannot report to work for light duty until they are healed (unlike Council Members). This is city policy. I read Conrad’s bio and it looks like he has any experience with real work let alone public safety.
    With the vast array of cuts proposed by the mayor & city council how do they propose to maintain and attract quality employees?

  • Scooby Do

    Here we go with the orchestrated smearing of city employees before contract negotiations. Last time the city tried to portray that city employees paid nothing into the pension system and paid nothing for their health insurance. Both false.

    Police and Fire get generous vacation? That is because the get zero holidays. Zero. Want things to be like the private sector? Give police and fire the holidays off like the private sector. Need them to work the holidays? Thought so.

    It is hard to believe the mayor wants to cut police and fire and buy stadiums, fund river front projects that never get off the ground, and maintain high paying patronage jobs. I guess that is the mindset that has gotten us to where were are today.

  • David lowrance

    You need to check your facts again. Bad reporting. You have several figures wrong. Employees earn bouns days for not being off sick. Every quarter. They can not role over vacation days. You failed to mentions hours worked. Which is 52 not to mention oji policy states you will use sick time for. Your reporting non factual figures. Why not report that the city failed to pay there portion. Would like to see your station report the facts and the truth. You have a moral obligation to do so.

  • Kevin Lewis

    I don’t really know how these policies work. I do know we have a shortage of Firefighters in our city and my son has been notified 3 times to resubmit his paperwork because it had expired and has been waiting over 2 years for a class to start.

  • Madelyn Gordon

    Could it have been a coincidence that Saturday, when 44 firefighters called in “sick”, it just so happened to be the last day of duck hunting season?

  • Steve Ball

    I am not one of the ’44’, but only because I’m on a different shift. I’ve had one surgery this month and another scheduled in a week, so forgive me if I seem a little concerned with Councilman Conrad’s statements, as well as the overall tone of the article. Memphis firefighters work in ALL weather. As of now, it’s freezing temperatures. There are no extreme cold weather articles of uniform clothing on MFD…ZERO. The risk of hypothermia is an obvious concern. The personal protective equipment (PPE, bunker gear, turn-outs, etc.) approved for structural firefighting is designed to protect the user from the heat of a fire. In theory the insulating layers incorporated into structural firefighting ensembles should be effective at keeping the user warm in a cold environment; however PPE provides limited insulation from severe cold. This is lessened by the fact that firefighting incorporates water…a lot of water…and we get wet in the process…and your PPE will stay wet for the duration of the shift, and you WILL wear it because you only have the one set!

    Imagine responding to a fire. It’s 15 degrees outside and you’re already freezing. The fire is well-involved and you walk into a 1,000 degree furnace and start to work. You’re sweating under your PPE. You rotate out for rehab, right back into sub-freezing temperatures, in wet clothing no less. Imagine the shock to your system (literally shock). I’ve read the studies & it ain’t pretty. You may rotate back in, maybe not, but you’ll stay there, freezing, until the chief clears you to return to service. You may get back to the station, maybe not. You may catch an EMS call and respond to a sick party. No telling what they may have. Most times, you are their first medical treatment for this illness. No telling how many other family members are infected. It’s not helping that the thermostat is set on 80…Mold loves that! You’re up & down…in & out…throughout a 24 hour shift…Your immune system constantly bombarded with the stress of your profession. Sometimes it loses the battle!

    The sick day policy is the way it is for a damned good reason. Read the studies on this. In 25 years on this job, I’ve been beat, battered, broken…..and sick! Like a great number of firefighters, I am in my mid-50s, no longer with the immune system of a 20 year old!

    Mr. Mayor, Mr. Conrad, Council members, and journalists-
    Freezing to roasting to freeze-dried…exposed to numerous illnesses and pathogens…little sleep to recharge….Respectfully-, how would YOU hold up?

  • Really?

    Kemp Conrad is incorrect. Memphis Fire and Police Department Employees do NOT have 13 holidays off a year because they have rotating days off. If they are scheduled to work on a holiday, they have to work or use a vacation day. City Hall Employees (City Council Members, etc.) Have 13 holidays off because City Hall is closed on the holidays. The Memphis Fire and Police Departments are NOT closed on the holidays because they operate 24/7. Memphis City Employees can earn up to 4 bonus days a year if they do not take any sick days off throughout the year. Firefighters and Police Officers do not have 60 sick days off a year because if an employee is off sick for 60 days he/she would be fired. Kemp Conrad has correctly interrupted ten vacation days off a year but the possibility of 83 days off after 5 years of employment is extremely unlikely for any Memphis City Employee.

  • Renee

    Where are you getting your information? 83 days a year off? Check your facts before you report. I’d love to know what holidays fireman get. They’re only off if it falls on a non shift day. I bet Kemp spends all holidays with his family. Wouldn’t that be nice? How many times have you had to have Christmas/Santa Clause on the day before or after because daddy or mama was working protecting the citizens and couldn’t spend it with their children. Lets have a show of hands from all council members that will ‘understand’ when they need the fire department and they are unable to respond due to a brownout in that area. Response time is everything in a crisis. Only ladder trucks, not pumpers are being taken out of service. The general public doesn’t know the difference between the two and their functions at a fire. You better pray the first in ladder truck that responds to your burning house is not browned out that day. Thats 4 less people showing up immediately to ventilate, ladder the house and most importantly conduct search and rescue. The city is hurting the fire department bad enough, the media at least needs to get their facts straight. Speak with the fireman that protect you or their union to get your information. This city notoriously uses the fire department as the scapegoats for budget issues. Bottom line: they are gambling with firefighters safety as well as the publics safety. They can’t do the job they vowed to do to protect the citizens without the proper manpower and resources. The media is feeding into the spin the city is putting out there. And correction on the bonus days that were reported incorrectly….You only earn a bonus day if you work 3 consecutive months without being off sick. It has nothing to do with vacation days. And just so you know battalion chiefs and division chiefs don’t earn those bonus days; However, all your appointed positions downtown do – The ones making over $90k/year. Just thought someone close to the issue should correct you….. I have watched the concern for safety fall steadily as my husband has been a dedicated firefighter for 30 years. Sincerely, a fireman’s wife.

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