Firefighter Training, Firefighting

Columbus Chief and Union Claim ‘Light Duty’ Hurts City

Some Columbus (OH) administration and union representatives have pleaded with the Department of Public Safety to amend a policy that has allowed firefighters to use a policy loophole that allows them to sit behind a desk for years while recovering from an injury and still earn their full pay, reports The Columbus Dispatch.

The practice is called “light duty,” and it permits injured firefighters to work behind a desk or greet visitors at headquarters while other firefighters are paid additional money to work at a higher rank or on overtime to cover their regular shifts.

The policy limits light duty to 90 days, except for rare occasions.

As of December, 25 firefighters were on light duty, and more than half of them had been there a year or more, according to Fire Division records. The Safety Department later amended that list to 19 firefighters, saying some might have returned to full duty or were no longer on light duty for undisclosed reasons. Eleven of those 19 have been on light duty for more than year.

The Dispatch is reporting both lists because it is unclear which one is more accurate.

The injuries range from anxiety, heart and weight issues to chronic knee, back and shoulder injuries. Fire administrators are obligated to create a temporary position for a firefighter if the firefighter’s doctor says he or she can perform some tasks.

Fire Chief Gregory A. Paxton and fire union President Jack Reall say the policy’s major flaw is that there is no mechanism to wean firefighters off light duty and back to regular duty or into a disability retirement.

Emails obtained through records requests show that, since at least 2006, one fire chief or assistant chief after the next has asked the Public Safety Department for a better policy.

The program lets police officers and firefighters defer retirement up to eight years while their pension payments accrue interest. When they retire, they are paid the interest and deferred years of retirement income in a lump sum in addition to drawing their pensions. The system was meant to keep qualified personnel around longer to better serve the public.

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