Mt. Juliet Commissioners approved hiring nine more firefighters — the first of potentially 15 firefighters that will operate out of the future Mt. Juliet fire station to be located on Benton Douglas Parkway.
The additional firefighters will cost $393,350. Fire Department of Mt. Juliet Chief Jamie Luffman told the commissioners at their monthly meeting Monday that the nine requested firefighters were three more than the department budgeted before the March tornado and COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was my decision at that time to take (the additional firefighters) out. This board did not remove those. It was my decision at the time based on the uncertainty of the effects of the F-3 tornado and oncoming pandemic,” Luffman said. “Prior to the tornado and pandemic, we were going to have to do six now and nine later. Now, we’re in a position where we can do nine now and six later.”
The new fire station, located across Lebanon Road from new Green Hill High School, had its groundbreaking ceremony Monday afternoon. Luffman said at the groundbreaking that he hopes the station is open in one year.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty questioned the necessity of the additional nine firefighters at this time, and focused on a letter dated Aug. 25 from Luffman to the Mt. Juliet Chamber of Commerce in response to a citizen complaint.
“The current staff of seven firefighters per shift can and is handling the current volume of calls for service,” Hagerty read from the letter during the meeting.
“That’s medical calls, sir,” Luffman said, referring to a later sentence in the letter. “There was and is adequate staffing on the Mt. Juliet apparatus presently to properly address medical emergencies and calls for service of a non-emergent nature, such as life assist or assist from car to the home.”
“I think we’re all in agreement that we’re going to hire those people in advance so they can be trained and ready to go on day one, but I think 15-16 months is … I don’t think it takes that long to train your men. I don’t believe,” Hagerty said.
Luffman said the department can routinely dispatch six fulltime firefighters and five volunteers for 11 total firefighters, which is five short of the NFPA requirements, which forces the department to use aid from other entities.
“We need the proper staffing in this city to meet the minimum. We need to start staffing now so that someday we can reach the minimum requirements in the city,” Vice Mayor James Maness said.
Hagerty, who offered a failed amendment to hire the firefighters six months before the station opens, represented the lone vote against the ordinance.
“I have seen time after time after time when this commission decides that we know more than the fire chief that we hired to run the fire department. I think that’s kind of stupid to be perfectly honest with you,” said Commissioner Ray Justice, whose district includes the new fire station. “This commission has shown time after time after time that we know more than the city manager knows. I, personally, believe it’s time that we get the crap out of the way and let the city manager run the city of Mt. Juliet, and these people that we spend — these department heads — almost a million dollars a year of taxpayer money, we start listening to them, and quit ignoring them and quit telling them how to run the department that we pay them to run.”