Civil Service refuses to hear case of fireman

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 10, 2001

[05/10/01] An emergency medical technician who became a firefighter had not worked long enough to earn a termination review, members of Vicksburg’s Civil Service Commission decided Wednesday.

The three-member panel ruled Adrian Craig Thomas ineligible for a hearing because although he had been a city EMT for four years, he had been a firefighter less than one. That meant he was still on probation under the panel’s rules.

Information presented during the called meeting showed Thomas became an EMT with the Vicksburg Fire Department in 1996, moved to firefighter in February 2000 and was dismissed in December for violating the city’s residency policy for firefighters.

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Wednesday’s hearing, said Joe Graham, chairman of the commission, was solely to determine if Thomas came under the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission.

Thomas’ attorney, Mark Prewitt agreed, saying the residency policy was not being challenged. “The issue at the heart of this hearing today is not his termination but whether or not he is covered by the Civil Service Act,” Prewitt said.

Prewitt argued that Thomas’ employment as an EMT with the Vicksburg Fire Department made him a civil service employee and entitled to a review of his dismissal.

The only employees who can claim the protection of civil service rules, said Walterine Langford of the city’s legal department, are those listed on the register of civil service employees. In other words, only uniformed police officers and uniformed firefighters are covered.

“Paramedics are not civil service employees. EMTs who are not firefighters are not civil service employees,” she said, adding the job of an EMT is a medical function and not a firefighting function.

The commission then invoked the one-year probation before civil service protections began.

Under the rules of the fire department, said Fire Chief Kevin Westbrook, a newly hired firefighter has six months to establish a legal residence inside Warren County. The rule does not apply to EMTs.

The reasoning is that while EMTs work shifts with enough on duty to staff all ambulances at all times, firefighters should reside close enough to be called in if there’s disaster.

Thomas, Westbrook said, still lived in Winnsboro, La., at the end of the six-month period and was terminated.

Prewitt said he did not know if there would be an appeal.

The Civil Service Commission is charged with reviewing personnel actions in the police and fire departments to assure that employees are not hired or fired, promoted or demoted for reasons not related to their qualifications.