Survey Paints Troubled Picture of Fire Department

Wilmington, NC – Nearly 90% of the surveyed firefighters rated morale at the department as 'Poor,' 'Very Poor,' or 'Terrible,' and more than half said they've considered leaving.

The Wilmington Professional Firefighters Association, which represents a majority of the city's firefighters, contracted with an outside group for the survey as part of their ongoing effort to lobby for changes in the department. The group presented their findings at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

123 of the surveys sent out were returned, a response rate of 62%.

Michael McGuinness, a lawyer representing the firefighters, said he was surprised by the magnitude of complaints.

"We felt like it was bad, we didn't believe that it's terrible, and it's, regretfully, it's terrible."

The survey also found that three-quarters of firefighters had witnessed or were aware of significant safety hazards' in the Wilmington Fire Department. The Association's secretary, Chuck Bower cited understaffing is one of the department's ongoing problems. The department has had to shut down one of its tallest towers, Tower 2, numerous times because of there weren't enough firefighters to staff it. Wilmington's website currently list three job openings in the fire department.

Bower also laid much of the blame for low morale with the city's Human Resources department, and its director, Al McKenzie.

"I can pick out 15 firefighters who've had one-on-ones with the director of human resources, and they're wide and varied, from suspensions that were unnecessary to computation of time... there's too many things, it's just all over the board."

City manager Sterling Cheatham said Wednesday that he has yet to be presented with specific grievances against Human Resources, but that he, McKenzie, and Fire Chief Sam Hill, all work together as a team, making any problems "a collective concern."

Cheatman questioned the validity of the study and said he's waiting for the result of city's own assessment of the fire department, which is due next week.