Richmond County firefighters must pass new test

Commission wants more controlled exam for veterans

Prospective Augusta firefighters must pass a new physical test during the hiring process, and veterans will shape up or eventually be shipped out.

Augusta Commission approved the Certified Physical Agility Test to replace the test that has been the standard for recruits and pressed city officials to implement a test to ensure older firefighters are fit for the job. In addition, they voted to have City Administrator Fred Russell, Human Resources Director Rod Powell and Fire Chief Howard Willis come back before them with information about hiring one doctor to give firefighters annual physical checkups.

Firefighters currently are required to present a form from their doctor stating they are fit for the job, Willis said, but the commission wants a more controlled examination.

Commissioner Don Grantham said it was too easy for a firefighter to talk his doctor into filling out a checklist indicating he was fit and healthy enough to do the job.

The CPAT is essentially the same as the physical test that applicants must pass now, but it has been validated nationwide, instead of just in Georgia, Willis said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he had read an article stating that the CPAT was a good first start but that it did not go far enough.

"More than 40 percent of firefighters nationwide are overweight," he said. "Why require physical tests for trainees and not veteran firefighters?"

Willis said that he was working on a fitness program for veterans, and that there were already Weight Watchers, a wellness program and annualt tests.

"That is all part of the standards of training each firefighter has to go through each year," he said.

Questioned by Commissioner Alvin Mason about whether it was discriminatory to require one category of firefighters to pass a physical test and not all, Equal Employment Officer Jacqueline Humphries said, "You cannot do a fitness program for one and not for all."

Russell said Willis had just said they were trying to implement a program that would require all firefighters to pass a physical test.

Lockett suggested physical fitness be made a requirement for promotion.

"Basically, what the law says in these kinds of cases is first you give the written policy and explain it to folks, make sure they clearly understand it," Powell said. "Ultimately they understand the new criteria. Then they sign off acknowledging that as a new condition of employment going forward. That is the legal process in implementing a policy change."

Commissioner Joe Bowles said his concern is the same as Lockett's and Mason's.

"We've had a wellness program for employees for five years, and we've had nothing but negative results," he said.

"It's incumbent on this body here to set the standards for our fire department because obviously it's not being done."

Fitness goal of fire, police programs
In other action Tuesday

Recreation Director Tom Beck reported what had been done at one of the lakes at Diamond Lakes infested with lily pads and suspected of being contaminated.

Beck said his staff had gone into the pond in boats and tried to remove the lily pads, with limited success: "But what we have had success with is a chemical that is environmentally safe. It will take some time, but we hope in a couple of months, we will see results."

Garrett Weiss, the manager of the stormwater division of the city's engineering department, said he had collected samples from the pond and stormwater drain and did not find contamination.

Also, former Commissioner Andy Cheek warned the commission that the Augusta Canal diversion dam is critically in need of repairs and showed photos of deterioration that has occurred since 2005.

City Administrator Fred Russell said that the city will soon get its federal license for the dam and that when a fish ladder is installed, the contract will include repairs.

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