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Fire chief cites long promotion delays, argues for tests to resume

CITY HALL – Delays that go on for years in getting city firefighters their promotional tests have members of the Board of Aldermen’s budgeting committee asking why the tests can’t be done immediately. 

The list of firefighters up for promotion is 8-½ to nine years long, Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson told the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee at a hearing on Thursday. As that committee finishes its work on the budget year starting in July, it is taking testimony from heads of various city departments and divisions about their spending plans. 

The Fire Department has worked with the Department of Personnel over the past several years to get another promotional examination for battalion chiefs and fire captain, Jenkerson said.

After delays, money for tests for promotions for battalion chief and fire captain has been taken out of the Personnel Department budget, Jenkerson said. He asked that the money be restored.

Jenkerson argued that not holding such tests hurt the department.

“I think that affects the morale within the fire department,” he said, explaining that a regular testing schedule would keep all firefighters and EMS personnel studying and sharp.

Jenkerson noted that he was down one battalion chief but that he would be able to fill that position with the next person. However, when he fills that position, he will be short a captain. He also said that three fire captains were currently acting as battalion chiefs.

The fire chief also said 29 students in the fire academy would graduate on July 9.

Nineteenth Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, who heads the Ways and Means Committee, said Personnel Department officials hadn’t mentioned this problem when they appeared before the Board of Aldermen on Wednesday.

“So I guess that’s not on their radar, either,” Davis said.

Acting Public Safety Director Dan Isom said he favored giving the tests.

“Unfortunately, it is not the public safety director’s responsibility to do that. That is directly with personnel,” he said.

Money for the test was allocated in the current year’s budget, Budget Director Paul Payne said. It will be carried over to next year’s budget if a contract is signed in the remainder of this budget year or it’s encumbered.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ways and Means Committee members said the Personnel Department was making it harder for people to apply. Among other things, personnel workers have lost applications. 

City Director of Personnel Richard Frank was not available for comment. Assistant Director of Personnel Linda Thomas said she didn’t want to comment because she hadn’t been at the meeting where Jenkerson spoke and thus hadn’t heard what he said.

Under civil service, the Personnel Department tests everybody who works for the city for promotion, Thomas said.

In a separate matter, Jenkerson also said that because of COVID-19, prices for medical supplies for the department had increased sharply. 

“The cost of our medical supplies have just gone through the roof,” Jenkerson asserted.

As an example, Jenkerson said, the price of a box of rubber gloves used on ambulances and firetrucks has increased to $27 from $11. 

“We went through a tremendous amount of medical supplies last year, from gloves to oxygen to masks to medicines. It was crazy,” Jenkerson said. “With COVID, we had to upgrade some of our equipment to allow for a safer delivery of preventative services.”

The money for those supplies comes from the emergency systems category. The department requested $650,000, Jenkerson said. But the request was cut to $525,000.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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