Are Lexington County firefighters being treated unfairly while taxpayer’s dollars are being wasted?
Editor's Note: This was originally written as a letter to a Lexington County councilman and then sent to us as a Letter to the Editor. This is the opinion of the person who wrote it and anyone is welcome to respond at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Letters to the Editor must include the author's real name and will not be used if the contain profanity.
I wanted to let you all know serious concerns that I and other community members have about the recent treatment of Lexington County career firefighters. I am very concerned that our County tax dollars are being misused by Lexington County senior leadership and I will explain that further below. I am very concerned that the leadership of the Public Safety Dept. of Lexington County does not seem to have any kind of checks and balances and that clearly bad decisions are being made.
In April of this year, one of the firefighters at South Congaree Fire Station was supposedly involved in a silly prank. A week after this prank supposedly happened, Public Safety Director David Kerr required all firefighters that were around the fire station at the time of the supposed prank to write statements. He put the original firefighter directly involved with the prank on administrative leave and then two other senior-ranking firemen also on administrative leave just for being in the same building at the time. The two other firefighters were not involved at all in what supposedly happened; they did not see the incident. The firefighters were questioned multiple times by Fire Service staff. Then, in addition to that, David Kerr launched an "investigation" that lasted several weeks. He set up meetings with the firefighters where he yelled at and threatened one of them. When the firefighters wouldn't change their statements to fit what he wanted them to say, he then fired two of the firefighters and forced the third to retire. He clearly searched for any reason to fire them. For two of them, the reason was that they chose to seek an attorney's advice prior to a last minute meeting with David Kerr and so asked to postpone the meeting until they could do that. The third fireman went to the last minute meeting where he was yelled at and threatened. He was told he was required to take a lie detector test. It was clear that David Kerr's ego was bruised that the firefighters stood up for themselves in this ridiculous situation and sought legal counsel, which I think most reasonable people would want to do. Since the firefighters did this, he then obviously searched for any reason to fire them to make it look like they are at fault.
This is all to use these guys as an example for the rest of the Fire Service. The Engineer involved was a 15 year veteran of Lexington Co Fire Service and the Captain a 25 year veteran. Their careers were thrown away over nothing. David Kerr has told the firefighters in meetings before that they do not care who fills the firefighter positions in Lexington County as long as there are "warm bodies" that they can count and provide "those numbers to County Council." The firefighters have historically been told they are easily replaceable. This is not acceptable and simply not true. Lexington County Fire Service is so understaffed they instituted a mandatory overtime policy requiring firefighters to work entire extra 24 hour shifts on top of the 24 hour shifts they already work. The firefighters they fired are highly trained, experienced professionals that are not easily replaceable. They have all won awards for their work performance, including Firefighter of the Year and Fire Officer of the Year. They have decades of clean employment records with Lexington County. This is a clear overreaction to a very small situation and a waste of tax dollars when we have much bigger priorities in our county. I highly doubt the County has time and money to spare over lie detector tests for things like this for example! It also opens up the County to easily won lawsuits for wrongful termination amongst other things.
I also need to point out that David Kerr's position with the County does not make clear sense in the first place. There are head administrators of both the Fire Service and EMS and then a County Administrator. It does not make sense that David Kerr's position exists in the first place. This incident is a perfect example that he does not have enough to do if he has several weeks to dedicate to a ridiculous "investigation" of a prank and then figuring out some way to fire three firefighters. It begs the question of what actually important things were neglected as this was the focus for several weeks? David Kerr's actions go against everything taught to supervisors about leadership. All of this occurred under the "leadership" of Joe Mergo and I also very much question his competence. David Kerr seems to be able to behave rashly when any reasonable person would disagree with how he handled this situation; there is clearly no check and balance of his "authority." Joe Mergo himself has told the firefighters that he is "one vote away" from being voted out of his position. I can clearly see why.
I ask you to please look into this issue so we can make sure we are treating our first responders appropriately and making sure our tax dollars are used for the actual problems in our County, not on silly distractions. This situation is an embarrassment for our County. The guys they fired were some of the best firefighters in our County. If our first responders are being treated this way, how are the citizens being treated?
A Lexington County Resident