FFD staff reduction main topic at Fulton Commission meeting

by Benita Fuzzell

The Fulton City Commission convened July 11 to an unusually full room, the majority of audience members in attendance to speak or listen in regard to an incident which occurred earlier in the month, on July 1, when former Fulton Fire Department Chief Terry Rudolph officially began his retirement from the department, and recently hired Chief Jeremy Martin officially began his duties.

According to a press release issued by Fulton Mayor David Prater on July 5, “over the weekend, the City Fire Department saw first hand the difficulties of this change as some of the active firefighters chose to resign from the Fire Department...”

Following the resignations, a staffing shortage occurred, as well as the necessity of reaching out to neighboring Fire Departments in other communities for assistance.

In that press release, Mayor Prater stated “The City of Fulton wants to reassure every citizen of this community that the protection from fire loss for the citizens of this community remains a priority of the highest degree and it will continue to work diligently to ensure that our Fire Department is adequately staffed and equipped to respond to all calls in the future...”

Following the call to order by Mayor Prater Monday evening, and invocation provided by Commissioner Jeff Vaughn, with Commissioners Cubb Stokes and Elaine Forrester, as well as City Clerk Helen Lee and City Manager Mike Gunn present, the floor was opened, according to the agenda, for comments from the public.
City Attorney Allison Whitledge was present via zoom teleconferencing.

Mayor Prater spoke to audience members, prior to the commencement of public comment, stating he would not limit the amount of time each person used to share comments.

Gary Fulcher was the first to address the commission.

Fulcher explained he had been a member of the Fulton Fire Department for 57 years, 52 officially as he began serving as a teenager.

“Thank you, to each of you, and to the past commissioners and mayors. I have gotten out of bed at all hours of the night, while serving. I have no ill feelings. I did not quit, I just retired,” Fulcher said.

Justin Johnson, a member of the Fulton Fire Department, who resigned, said it was because of communication issues with the new fire chief.

“He seemed to spend more time with the police department than he did with us in the fire department. On July 1, I thought I would be staying on...I thought all the routine stuff would stay the same. I came back and the code had been changed. I just thought, since he knew I would be coming back, and the routine stuff would not change, I did not understand why the code was changed. I went and talked to Ms. Elaine. I stated I wasn’t leaving. I was advised I was not needed on this department, because it was going to have to be a fulltime career. I did quit,” Johnson said.

Dwayne Gardiner, 10 years with the fire department, having served as Captain, is no longer with the Fulton Fire Department, following actions which he said included Chief Martin initiating a criminal trespass order against him.
“At an officer’s meeting Chief would not respect me or the other captain enough to look us in the eye...he said turn in your gear, I said its on the rack. I got the gear after he told me to bring it to him, put down my boots, coat, helmet. The helmet rolled off. He (Chief) called Allen Poole and it was said I threw the gear and cussed him. I never did any of that. I am now criminally trespassed from the Fulton Fire Department because of the lies the Chief told,” Gardiner said.

George McCain briefly addressed the commission and those in attendance, stating “I have heard these people complain. If they support this community and wanted to stay, they would not have ‘mutinized’ and walked away.”

“I appreciate each of these comments. I will have no rebuttal. Thank you to each of you for your years of service. I don’t like to see one, or anyone resign. I do have one question I have that I don’t understand. This group, resigned. We don’t have coverage. I have spoken to some. I just don’t understand. If you have a love for the profession, I just don’t understand. I believe he (Chief Martin) was the right choice. I am trying to understand what it is he has done and hasn’t done. On a holiday weekend, in the middle of a drought, for people who say they love their profession, to step off the job and leave the fire department barely there...and then, that same weekend, Commissioner Vaughn had a fire at his house. I just don’t understand,” said Mayor Prater.

Following Mayor Prater’s comment, Commissioner Vaughn then addressed those present for the meeting.

“There are some people here who were on the scene, that means a lot to me. I am a loyal person. I am loyal to the Lord. I was happy with the response time, it was minimal damage. The people who stepped up, those firefighters saved my home...those men will never buy another meal in my restaurant,” Commissioner Vaughn said, as he pointed out those who arrived at the scene of the fire at his home, some of whom were current firefighters, and some who had previously served, but were no longer actively serving, however had come to the scene to offer assistance.

William Caldwell stated “I have listened to what these people have said. I have lived here 20 years. What I have realized is that nobody here does their job, including you,” he said, as he pointed in the direction of the commissioners and mayor.

South Fulton City Manager Joyce Gray introduced herself to the Fulton officials.

“I am the city manager of South Fulton and I have not met everyone yet. I just wanted to introduce myself to everyone, and make sure you all know we are trying to work together on making the Twin Cities a good community,” she said.

Justin Davidson, one of the firefighters who resigned, stated he had volunteered for 9-10 years, the only exception, being when he worked away from the area for 18 months.
“I have called the fire station home, and done everything here, including the maintenance. We lost 10-12 from our department that day. I didn’t take it lightly. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. No one made me step off. But our captain was criminal trespassed and barred from the premises, and I can’t stand with the Chief for that. He was brought in from out of town, and doesn’t fit in with the locals. I was willing to give him a chance. Terry (former Chief Rudolph) said to us to give him a chance. But he, the Chief, he rides in police cars, not the fire truck. When the stuff hits the fan, a Chief needs to be there, not in a police car. I believe the city made the wrong decision. As a volunteer firefighter, I made a lot of calls. I can’t be productive for the community if I am sitting home,” Davidson said.

Melissa Fulcher also addressed the commission.

“I don’t have a lot to say. We have been through several Chiefs and changes in the past 10-12 years. No one has ever quit because of a Chief change. I hope you all will give consideration to that,” she said.

Returning to the podium, after others had spoken, she questioned the commission as to whether there would be a willingness to “get together and go get people to be on the department no matter how many years it has been since they have been on it? Is Mr. Martin willing to work with them, these people? I understand it has been more of a ‘this way or no way’ with him. He asked my husband if he will stay on with the department. Why would he ask that? Chris has tried to talk to him since we have been back and he has not been available.”

Following public comment, Commissioner Stokes stated “Everybody can talk..everybody has feelings. We don’t know who said what...I have had 40 years as a manager. You have to be a good listener and be open for change and that goes for the manager and the existing employees. In the past, we had a lot of transitions from within. We had no candidates within, to accept this job. We went outside. Jeremy came for the interviews. Things like this should be handled from within the departments.”

City Attorney Allison Whitledge, present via zoom, recommended the officials refer to policies already in place.

“We have policies and procedures in place...we have no knowledge of trespassing and there is no investigation at this point,” she said.

Willie Sampson, who is employed in the city’s public works department offered his comment regarding the change in department leadership.

“ This could be the same with the public works department. We have been blessed, we got lucky, or we could have been in the same shape. I know it is frustrating. But I will be here til it puts me in the ground. If you do love your job, be willing to bend. When I blow up, I blow up. Bring it together. If you make a mistake, man up. And if you (commission) made a mistake, man up,” he said.

Concerns were expressed from members of the audience, formerly associated with the fire department, as to whether, if Gardiner did try to come to the fire department to speak with Martin, police would be called to arrest him for violating the trespassing warning.

Another audience member asked if FPD Assistant Chief Allen Poole could come to the podium and state he would not arrest Gardiner if he came to the fire station on the charge of trespassing.

Fulton Police Chief Terry Powell intervened and said he would respond to the question.

“If it is brought to the FPD for someone to leave the building, don’t come back. That is a warning. You can’t go back to that building until that warning is taken back, about the criminal trespassing,” Chief Powell said, adding he believed his officers acted in a professional manner.

“I got a call someone was unruly. The new Chief said he did not want him back in the building. If you resign, you don’t need to be in the private part of the building where employees are. If it is in a public area, public lobby, you can come in there,” Assistant FPD Chief Poole said.

Tiffany Gardiner, the wife of Dwayne Gardiner, posed a question to the commission.

“How can you stay on the department if you don’t trust the chief? He called the police and made a false allegation. My husband kept his cool. But, he called the police on a fellow firefighter,” she said, in reference to Chief Martin.

James Robert Buckingham, a retired law enforcement officer who resides just outside the Futon City limits, said he and his wife had decided to come to the meeting over concerns about the fire service.

“We depend on Cayce Fire Department, and they were damaged by the tornado. It just looks like it could all be worked out. Leadership is behavior. I don’t know him (Chief Martin). I don’t know how that could happen, the criminal trespass. As far as what was said about who would be in charge if the chief wasn’t there, well someone takes charge until he gets there...you already know how to get a hose out. Meet again and straighten things out. I don’t know the man but he is your pick,” Buckingham said, referring to his hiring by the city.

Jacob Morris, who had been a firefighter with the Fulton Fire Department expressed his frustration about a Captain, in reference to Gardiner, being “kicked off and got criminal trespassed.”

He also stated Chief Martin had “missed calls riding around with Allen Poole.”

“I have known these firefighters for years. It all just breaks my heart. Let’s get the fire department back where it needs to be, get this together and lets get going,” Commissioner Elaine Forrester said.

In his final comment, Commissioner Stokes spoke to those present for the meeting.

“We’re a community..United we Stand, divided we fall. We need to use discussion and communication. These things should be handled within the department,” he said.

“We appreciate all of you. Thank you for your service,” Mayor Prater said.

“We appreciate you all. Sometimes you just need to take a breath. Take a deep breath. Things are usually different then. You might need space,” said Commissioner Jeff Vaughn.

Municipal Orders 2021-160, 2021-166, and 2022-01 were approved for minutes from the regular meeting June 13, special call meeting June 22 and regular meeting June 27, respectively.

Mayor Prater, through Municipal Order 2022-02, was authorized to sign a proposal with United Systems for a Technology Management IT Contract, and was also authorized through Municipal Order 2022-03 to sign any and all necessary documents for a submittal of US DOT Natural Gas Distribution, Infrastructure Safety and Modernization Grant Program, for work on the city’s Natural Gas System.

The Technology Management IT Contract, Gunn explained, was connected to the transition with the city’s phone systems, at the Police and Fire Stations, Public Works Department and City Hall. He reported the city received the grant from Kentucky League of Cities for $7,000 toward upgrades, which will include technology security. It will also cover email servers, agreements with all vendors, system management and other services, for $3200 per month, after the first six months.

With potential availability of $15 million, Gunn shared with the commission, that the US DOT Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization Grant program, should the city be successful in receiving the 100% grant, would be administered by BFW, which would also serve as the project engineer, and could cover the funding for a master meter for the city’s use, at a cost of $25,000, as well as aging pipes.

Commissioner Darcy Linn was absent.