Ex-SHFAD lieutenant alleges violations

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Former Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District lieutenant/paramedic Zach Lincoln received five minutes at the Tuesday, April 18, Fire Board meeting to outline alleged incidents of district-related conduct and law violations related to his dismissal last month.

The 15-year district veteran, who was terminated March 29 for failing to sign a settlement agreement after being on administrative leave for more than 11 months, said he’d hand-delivered letters March 1 to the board’s members detailing concerns regarding current Chief Nick Tyler and his predecessor, Dave Barringer, and “violations of Oregon and federal law, including allegations of criminal conduct.”

He then read a list of 21 Oregon revised statutes that he claimed were violated by the district, dealing with issues including discrimination, workplace harassment, sick leave, family leave, workers compensation, return to work by injured employees, reasonable accommodation, disability issues, prohibited conduct by public employers, whistleblower retaliation, and other alleged violations.

Lincoln also alleged violations of two sections of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as his First and 14th Amendment rights.

Lincoln said that he emailed board President Dawn Mitchell on March 9 a signed letter containing a request for the board to intervene in 27 employee-contract breaches by the fire chief, details of concerns regarding an employee investigation after receiving notice of a potential termination, a summary of additional alleged employment violations and a request for a civil service hearing for the loss of special privileges.

Zach Lincoln, center, speaks to the SHFAD board at its April 18 meeting, as his father, Stephen Lincoln, sits next to him.

In the March 1 letter, Lincoln requested an independent investigation of the fire chief’s actions by the Special District Association of Oregon (SDAO), the district’s insurance provider. He asked the board why it failed to request that investigation.

“We will continue with our consulting with our attorney on said items,” Mitchell told Lincoln at the meeting. “All those things have been turned into an attorney, and we’re working through the process.”

Lincoln added that the March 9 letter included a request for a hearing regarding the loss of special privileges but was met with no response. He noted that the establishment of a Civil Service Commission is required for any fire agency with four or more full-time firefighters (not including a fire chief), and a hearing must be conducted within 30 days of a written request’s receipt.

He asked the board why no hearing was scheduled to contest an alleged civil service violation.

“Everything’s before the attorney,” Mitchell said, “and we’ve been working under his guidance.”

Lincoln asked when the Civil Service Commission was voted into being by the board.

Board Member Larry Johnson responded that the board established one during its March meeting.

“But that’s something that Dave Barringer had brought up previously that we had not gotten to,” Johnson added.

At the close of the exchange, Mitchell warned Lincoln about making accusations during the meeting, per board policy.

“Speakers may offer objective criticism of district operations,” she said, “but we will not hear about specific district patrons or personnel, except during executive session. Going forward, when we’re targeting individuals, it’s an executive-session item.”

Also at the meeting:

♦ The board unanimously approved a new fee schedule and transport rates for the district.

The rates were last changed two years ago. Increases include: advanced life support and basic life support base rate, $1,600 to $1,900; aid-call rate, $500 to $600; rescue rate, $300 to $500; rescue-with-extrication rate, $500 to $650; and the mileage rate, $22 to $25 per mile.

New additions to the fee schedule include $225 per hour for wait time, $55 per hour for a standby medic, $15.73-21.06 for a standby emergency medical technician based on position and $90 per hour for a standby paramedic.

Before the vote, Tyler told the board that the proposed increases were similar to ones proposed by the Lebanon, Corvallis and Albany fire departments.

“They’re not on the high side or the low side, and that’s kind of what I look at,” he said. “I definitely don’t want to be out in front of people, nor behind people. So I think with those numbers, we’re nestled right in the middle of our local partners.”

♦ According to Tyler, the district did not receive a seismic grant for Crawfordsville Station No. 23 but will reapply.

He said he expects to get the grant eventually, “whether it’s the next cycle or the cycle after that.”

♦ Tyler reported a total of 289 emergency medical service calls in March, with a transportation rate of 60.55%.

“We’re ticking upwards on that,” he said, “getting back into an area where we want to be.”

Firefighter/paramedic Christian Whitfield, right, and Stephen Lincoln check out Station No. 21’s recently remodeled kitchen after the April board meeting.

♦ The board voted unanimously to renew Battalion Chief Randy Whitfield’s contract.

“One of the things I want to commend Randy for is I’ve seen him continue to push himself and try to get better, and better his crews,” Tyler said. “He’s still actively engaged and actively taking classes, which is very important. We really don’t want to get into the business of having somebody retire, contracted back and not continue to try to be better. I’m very impressed that he’s still taking the classes and still trying to further his knowledge base and get better, and he’s continuing that as well as mentoring his crews.”

Board member Rob Younger thanked Whitfield for his service.

“You’re a valuable part of our group here,” he said, “and I just want to thank you for everything you do.”

♦ Tyler discussed Station No. 21’s recently remodeled kitchen, which the board toured after the meeting.

“I think it’s great and it should be accommodating for years to come,” he said.

♦ Tyler floated the idea of a joint board meeting with the Tangent and Lebanon fire boards.

“Especially in today’s climate with a lot of legislation out there and a lot of various concerns that affect all the agencies,” he said, “I think it’s a really good idea, making sure not only the fire chiefs are all on the same page, but our boards of directors understand why we’re all on the same page.”

Board members supported the suggestion.

♦ Tyler expressed appreciation for his staff despite its “overextended” vehicle-maintenance budget.

“The amount of maintenance that the guys are able to do in-house and the cost savings associated with that are second to none,” he said. “I come from an agency that hires a mechanic at shop rates to change light bulbs. That’s an extreme example, but the amount of work and forecasting done here is amazing.”

♦ The board unanimously passed a public contracting rules resolution.

♦ Board member Charlene Adams said that in March the district reported an income of $136,868 and expenses of $333,807 for an income of -$196,939. The district reported $1,817,070 of cash available in its bank-account balances as of March 31.

♦ Tyler shared that the board will meet with the district’s budget committee at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, at Station No. 21.