City, Firefighters at Odds over Interpretation

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The City of Topeka says it's latest dispute with firefighters boils down to interpretation.

The city's charter ordinance requires fire department applicants to take the entry level firefighters exam. The local union says that means those are the only positions for which the department can hire outside.

But the city disagrees. City Manager Norton Bonaparte is asking the language be changed to clarify only entry level firefighters be required to take the exam.

City Spokesperson David Bevens says it's a matter of finding the best people to fill management positions. He says past policy was to consider only seniority, but he says Chief Howard Giles has moved away from that, which is in accordance with industry best practices. Bevens says the change only impacts promotions for management positions, not promotions in rank.

IAFF Local 83 President Kent Dederick says it's simply another way Giles has distanced himself from firefighters. Dederick says firefighting is not just a job, it's a career. He says firefighters take the job with the understanding they'll be able to move up through the ranks. He says he sees the proposed change as a way for Giles to put whoever he wants from the outside in those positions.

The Topeka City Council first heard the issue Tuesday night and voted to postpone action up to six months.