'Unacceptable': Ga. official sees FFs cutting grass, adds firehouse yards to city maintenance
Columbus Councilor Judy Thomas said the city has the funds available that firefighters don't have to cut grass
By Mark Rice
COLUMBUS, Ga. — For decades, Columbus firefighters and EMTs have done the yard work around their stations because they haven't been on the list for the crews maintaining the grounds of the city's other properties.
That strange situation is changing.
At its July 25 meeting, Columbus Council unanimously approved Councilor Judy Thomas' motion to add $100,000 to this year's budget so the city's 14 fire stations could be on that list.
Thomas, who has been one of the 10-member council's two citywide representatives for 12 years, said during the meeting she was concerned to recently learn that firefighters and EMTs are doing this task "every Friday" while on duty. They often buy lawnmower gas and pay for fixing lawn equipment or bring their own, she said.
"It's quite unacceptable," Thomas said. "... In (the fiscal year 2024 city government) $334 million budget that has over 100 days in the fund balance, it seems to me we would have enough funding so the firefighters don't have to cut the grass and do all the other yard maintenance. ... We've got to fix this, and we've got to fix it right away."
City manager Isaiah Hugley told the council that Columbus firefighters and EMTs have been cutting their station's grass for more than 40 years, and the city hadn't received a request to change that procedure.
"It would just take a motion to add that to the budget," he said.
So that's what Thomas did, seconded by Councilor Pops Barnes of District 1.
During discussion of the motion, Columbus Fire & EMS Chief Sal Scarpa told the council, after he was hired here three years ago from Shawnee, Kansas, where he was deputy chief, he thought it was odd for Columbus firefighters and EMTs to do their station's yard work. When he asked his staff why, Scarpa said, "They said that's what we've always done."
Scarpa noted his department's fiscal year 2022 request for $50,000 to replace lawn equipment wasn't approved.
"They don't complain about it," he said, referring to his staff. "... They would appreciate somebody else doing it. ... It would look pretty poor showing up at someone's home (to answer an emergency call) covered in grass clippings."
The council voted 9-0 to approve the motion. Councilor Bruce Huff of District 3 was absent.
Scarpa told the Ledger-Enquirer this change is in the best interest of his department and the citizens.
"We are greatly appreciative of the council's support in taking on the lawn maintenance at all the fire stations and all our department facilities," he said. "... Our firefighters have a lot of responsibilities. I think they'll feel a lot better when somebody else is doing that."
The chief emphasized the firefighters and EMTs haven't been required to bring their own equipment to maintain their station's grounds.
"Sometimes the lawn equipment we have isn't really the best, " he said. "So a lot of the firefighters who have their own lawn maintenance business on the side, instead of waiting for the city's equipment to be repaired — and they take a lot of pride in their stations — they just bring their own equipment."
Scarpa said he isn't sure when the stations will be included among the city properties maintained by the landscaping crews, but he expects that transition to be finalized by next month.