Officials: Ind. firefighters had altercation over contract dispute

The fight came just one day after a rally at City Hall attended by roughly 200 people in support of the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396


By George Myers
The Kokomo Tribune

KOKOMO, Ill. — A memo released Wednesday shows that two Kokomo firefighters engaged in a physical altercation last month over a city contract proposal that was rejected by the local fire union.

The fight, which led to both firefighters receiving written reprimands, came just one day after a rally at City Hall attended by roughly 200 people in support of the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396.

The memo reveals, though, that the friction between city and union officials displayed at the rally and a subsequent Common Council meeting has now also stretched into Local 396's inner ranks.

That document, presented Wednesday by the city's human resource department to the Kokomo Board of Public Works and Safety, says the city investigated an incident that occurred on Jan. 23 "involving a number of fire department employees."

Those involved reportedly gathered at a local restaurant to discuss contract issues, after which four firefighters continued the dialogue at a firefighter's home.

"During these discussions, one fire department employee who did not support the proposed contract became upset at another fire department employee who did support the proposed contract," reads the memo.

"The argument escalated and resulted in a minor physical altercation between the two."

The memo did not specify the names of the firefighters involved in the altercation.

An investigation later confirmed the facts that had been reported to city officials, and the two firefighters were each issued a written reprimand for violating Kokomo Fire Department code.

The piece of code cited in the memo requires employees to be "civil, orderly, courteous, and show due respect in dealing with... associates."

Local 396 President Chris Frazier, who declined to speak about the incident itself, expressed frustration about the memo's public release.

"I have no comment about it, and it shouldn't be public information," he said. "The fact that that was read at the Board of Works is ridiculous today, so I have no comment about it at all.

"It's none of their business," Frazier continued. "It's none of the city's business what happens between firemen off duty. Absolutely none of their business. The fact that they even are mentioning it shows how much the city is not -- doesn't operate correctly. So the fact that that was even brought to the Board of Works was ridiculous today."

Frazier acknowledged he was unaware the memo had been presented to the Board of Works before being contacted by a Tribune reporter.

In response, the city's human resource director, Kathy Horton, said the department "investigates all claims of intimidation, hazing or fighting among employees."

Notably, Horton explained that each person involved in the incident declined the option to have union representation.

"We are committed to ensuring that city employees feel safe working alongside their colleagues. All firefighters interviewed as part of this investigation were allowed to have union representatives present; they all declined," said Horton in a written statement.

"We are not going to get into an argument with Chris Frazier about why his fellow firefighters didn't want his help, or why they didn't inform him of the investigation."

State statute requires the Board of Works to handle or record disciplinary measures involving police officers and firefighters, according to city officials.

The fight was reportedly prompted by disagreements over a contract proposal previously denied by Local 396's membership.

Union members rejected that contract offer from city officials on Jan. 21, one day before the public rally. The offer, according to a city document, included a 6 percent raise over three years and a $300 increase in longevity pay.

Also included were a "no layoff" guarantee and an increase in retiree health care benefits from a $550 per month stipend to a reimbursement of up to $900 per month for health insurance.

But Frazier has said the union's focus isn't on raises -- Frazier says his union would accept a zero-zero-zero raise structure over the next three years -- but is instead focused on health insurance benefits.

Right now, fire union officials are "asking for parity with the police department on retirees' health insurance and active health insurance," said Frazier in a previous interview. He said increased premiums have eaten up any raises given to local firefighters, especially those who live outside Kokomo.

The city and Local 396, negotiating a new contract since June 7, 2017, have yet to reach an agreement, meaning Kokomo firefighters are operating without a contract for the first time.

The two sides are expected to hold their next negotiation session on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

Copyright 2018 The Kokomo Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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