Ex-fire chief Westbrook fired from city position

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2002

[05/16/02]The former chief of the Vicksburg Fire Department, Kevin Westbrook, has been fired from his new city position with about a year to go until his planned retirement.

Westbrook had been with the fire department for 23 years and chief of the 117-member force for four and a half years when he stepped down in February and took a position in the city’s code enforcement department. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to eliminate that position and fire Westbrook.

“The city said they didn’t need my services any more so they let me go with 12 months to go to retirement,” Westbrook said.

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Mayor Laurence Leyens said that Westbrook had requested a transfer from the code enforcement department after nearly three months in the new position. He said Westbrook was given an administrative position with the fire department last week, but that job did not work out.

Leyens said Westbrook was also given the opportunity to apply for another position with the city.

“I didn’t care what he did, but he had to do the work,” Leyens said. “People can’t just be in there waiting for retirement.”

Although no city department heads were replaced when the three members of the city board took office 11 months ago, three have been since. Personnel director Wayne Roberts was fired and Police Chief Mitchell Dent was demoted twice and has since resigned.

Westbrook, the third to be replaced, had been paid $48,000 annually as fire chief and $34,000 as a code enforcement official. He said he had problems with the code enforcement position because of safety concerns.

“It’s basically police work,” Westbrook said. “You have to issue tickets and go on private property, but at least police have radios and even guns.”

Keith Rogers was appointed by the city board to take over the fire department while the city conducts a nationwide search for a new chief. Rogers has been with the 117-member department for about 18 years.

Former Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Scott had also moved to code enforcement in September.

“I don’t know what the mayor’s problem is with me, but he’s the boss,” Westbrook said.

Problems began between the new administration and the fire department before the election with a rumor in the fire department that if elected Leyens would make the city department all-volunteer. Leyens denounced the rumor as political and bought advertising, sent letters and met with firefighters to deny it.

Shortly after the new administration took office, plans were announced to make the Vicksburg police officers the highest-paid in the state, but when no fire department pay changes were announced at that time, many of the firefighters complained.

At the time, Leyens said the department’s leadership was at fault for not making the process clear.

Since then, the city has restructured the fire department’s pay scale in a manner similar to the police where new recruits will start at a base pay but be able to move up to the highest level in the state during the first year by meeting certain incentives.

Westbrook was named chief to replace Doris Sprouse in 1997 as the previous city administration took office. He said he did not have any definite plans for employment.