IOP firefighters' assist questioned

— Did City Administrator Linda Tucker cross a line when she asked a few on-duty firefighters to help a councilwoman carry a couch down a flight of stairs at that woman's home?

Tucker described the incident as an act of kindness and a service available to all islanders. But one city councilman questioned how well-known the practice is and whether it exposes city workers to injuries not related to their jobs.

The issue arose over Councilwoman Barbara Bergwerf's plans to give away a couch in favor of a more comfortable one following her husband's knee-replacement surgery in December.

The woman who received the furniture brought a U-Haul truck to the councilwoman's Ocean Boulevard home, but she did not prepare to have anyone help move the furniture, Bergwerf said.

Tucker said she heard of the situation and turned to the Public Works Department for help, but crews were already off for the day. The request got passed on to the Fire Department, but only if no other calls came in, she said.

Bergwerf said the firefighters who responded were in and out of her home in roughly 11 minutes.

“These guys were fabulous and they were happy to do it,” Bergwerf said. “That's the beauty of living in a small town. Firefighters do respond to citizen needs above and beyond the call of duty.”

The act of kindness wasn't a perk of being on City Council, Tucker said. It was a service that primarily is made available by Public Works and benefits all residents who could use some help from time to time, she said.

“The negative thing about all this is now that it's getting so much attention, people who need help might not reach out for it anymore,” she said.

Public Works logs at least eight such acts of service each week, including assisting the elderly, moving furniture and changing tires, Director Donnie Pitts said.

“We've helped present mayors, past mayors, City Council members and residents. There's no special treatment that I've ever given to a public figure that I wouldn't give to a resident,” Pitts said.

Based on the number of requests the department gets each week, Pitts said he believes that knowledge of the service is widespread throughout the island. It comes at no additional cost to the city, he said.

“If we can help somebody, than that's what we do,” Pitts said.

Councilman Ryan Buckhannon questioned whether the average resident knows that such services are available to them.

“I'm on City Council and I didn't even know about it,” Buckhannon said.

In his opinion, the service should be limited to emergencies, Buckhannon said. The city needs to create a policy to clarify what is and isn't an appropriate request to take on, he said.

“There's liability out there. What if one of the firefighters were to get injured while performing a duty that's outside the scope of his job? That's what concerns me,” Buckhannon said.

The practice was only discussed in general terms at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Mayor Dick Cronin said the Fire Department has an opportunity to help residents, and that he didn't have a problem with it.

Councilman Michael Loftus said council doesn't want to excessively manage the city administrator. “For council to micromanage this issue would be a big mistake,” he said.

Prentiss Findlay contributed to this report.