Firefighters Back on the Job After Considering Strike - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/25/04

Firefighters Back on the Job After Considering Strike

The fire chief of Walthourville was given his job back, and volunteer firefighters threatened to walk. City officials reinstated the chief last night after he resigned two weeks ago. Firefighters decided to go back on the job, even though most of them said they would leave if the chief came back.

They say Jimmy Thomas has falsified records and doesn't respond to calls. "No one ever sees him, really. He's just not around," said Assistant Chief Thomas Hines.

Residents are skeptical. "I know Mr. Thomas," said Mary Ann Osmanski. "He's a nice fellow, but he doesn't show up to calls."

But Walthourville says he stays, and city officials had some harsh words of their own for firefighters. Patricia Green, Walthourville's mayor pro tem, to us, "If the person has the city at heart, that's the person who belongs."

Walthourville believes Chief Thomas does. He resigned after many of the city's firefighters threatened to quit, but now the city's given him his job back and is unhappy with firefighters' promises to walk out.

"They're a good bunch of firefighters, but you do not give the city an ultimatum," said Green.

But that's what 21 of Walthourville's 25 firefighters considered doing after last night's council meeting. They say Chief Thomas doesn't deserve the job.

"He doesn't show up for calls, for training," said Assistant Chief Hines. "Since May, we've had 54 calls. He's responded to eight of them."

It was just a few weeks ago that firefighters threatened to walk off the job and turned in their keys, but they still came back to their jobs; however, after last night's meeting, city council members aren't sure what is going to happen.

"I'm checking into that right now; however, I can tell you, a month ago, they all did walk out," said Mayor Henry Fraiser, Sr.

Firefighters ultimately made the decision to stay. "We do it for the community," said Hines. "We live in the community, so we want to protect our community."

The chief was unavailable for comment. Walthourville city officials say they still expect him to respond to more calls and be more of a leader in the department, but firefighters say they still plan to bring up the issue again at Walthourville's next council meeting on September 7.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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