Now that Rodney Gandy is no longer a member of the department, he said he feels he can share the experiences of he and his fellow city fire fighters.
“The money wasn’t the reason behind this,” Gandy said. “It’s a control issue. We’re frustrated because even when you’re off, the chief still tries to control everything you do 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
He recounted working conditions including profanity-laced tirades, objects thrown in anger, trash cans kicked and overturned.
The fire fighters formed a union chapter late in 2008, and filed suit against the city for overtime compensation in March.
All 10 members of the union were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are two fire fighters who haven’t chosen to join the union, and the three officers of the department haven’t either.
Gandy also addressed allegations in a press release sent out by the International Association of Fire Fighters Wednesday.
“They’re all true,” he said.
City Manager Monty Crump said the first time he knew there was any question was when the lawsuit was served.
“We have a grievance process to go through over workplace conditions and disciplinary actions,” Crump said. “When a policeman or a firefighter or a city employee is hired, there’s an orientation process, they receive a personnel ordinance and everything is explained to them.”
He said the City of Rockingham has filed a response to the lawsuit, and it is the city’s contention it has been in compliance with the Fair Standards Labor Act since August 1985.
“We’ve paid police and fire fighters the same way for 24 years and there’s never been a question before,” he said.
Crump as well as Rockingham Mayor Pro-Tem Bennett Deane noted officials can only go so far with a statement due to pending litigation.
“Until the article ran in the Daily Journal, speaking as a city council member, I was totally unaware of any of the concerns these guys have filed the lawsuit over and the grievances they have,” he said.
Deane said it was disappointing for him to find out what these employees have to say in this manner.
“I just feel like we have a system of open government, and I also feel all of our city council members are very approachable,” he said. “There is a formal process to go through to voice these grievances, and I find it hard to believe, in this small community, that none of them could speak to some member of council or management about this.
“We try to be fair to everybody, but now it’s in litigation and it will have to go through that process.”
Gandy also said under former chief Charles Trotter, fire fighters were encouraged to have a part-time job.
“The way he looked at it, you work 10 days a month and you only make so much money,” he said. “Everybody had a part-time job. We were encouraged to supplement our income.”
He said he was told he was on his way out before being fired, and informed he had to take his radio into church with him, after he missed two calls while there, and not to travel more than 45 minutes away from Rockingham.
“We were told we could only travel out-of-town for two hours,” Gandy said. “Since we joined the union, we’ve been told we can’t travel out-of-town at all.”
He said he understands structure fires don’t take time off, “but we thought when you’re off, you’re off.”
He said the fire fighters were also instructed if they tried to go over Gardner’s head and approach the local media or a city council member they would be terminated immediately.
IAFF Chapter President Robbie Barber said their union chapter did not believe any of their members would be fired.
“He fired Rodney and made a believer out of us,” he said.
He said he was instructed to only confirm or deny the information in the press release by union attorneys.
“It’s all true,” he said. “We had to fight to get that much out there. We’re concerned for our safety.”