Johnson City firefighters say morale at all-time low; City manager disagrees

(Courtesy: WJHL)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Several Johnson City firefighters say morale is at an all-time low.

News 2’s sister station WJHL learned low morale is one of the many things firefighters, including top management, mentioned on tape during an internal investigation last year.

“Unfortunately, we’ve become the laughing stock of fire departments in the country,” Sgt. Travis Royston told an internal investigator.

“It seems like we are at rock bottom with morale at the fire department right now,” firefighter Michael Britt said.

“I think that our morale has never been lower,” Capt. Steve Weaver said.

“It is low,” Assistant Fire Chief Chris Williams said. “It’s extremely low.”

“I think that everyone reaches a breaking point,” Assistant Fire Chief Jerome Palmer said. “With this continuously going on, I think that a lot of people have reached that breaking point.”

WJHL spent months listening to 13 hours worth of taped firefighter interviews and, despite the words that came out of even the assistant fire chiefs’ mouths, the city manager said he doesn’t think morale is a major problem.

In all, the city interviewed two dozen firefighters over the course of several months last year for an internal investigation into alleged workplace harassment.

After hearing the tapes, WJHL asked the Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association where morale stands.

“I think there’s always improvement for morale, absolutely,” Public Information Officer Christopher Ward said.

However, City Manager Pete Peterson said he doesn’t think morale at the fire hall is any worse than any other city department.

“I do not think it’s that big of an issue,” Peterson said. “The work is getting done. We’re getting high-quality work done. I’ve been in this organization for 26 years and for every day that I have been in this organization there has been a group in the fire department that has claimed that morale was bad and things were bad and that we’ve needed a new chief.”

“I don’t see morale in the fire department overall any different than any other department. You have some employees that love to come to work and are proud to be city employees, and you’ve got some employees that it’s just a means to make a living,” he added.

According to Peterson, he doesn’t think low morale is an “epidemic” as he says some in the fire department would like to present it to be.

Still, he said the city has made some changes to the promotional process to make sure firefighters know exactly what it takes for them to be promoted.

In the past, Peterson admitted that wasn’t crystal clear. Firefighters have previously cited the promotional process as an issue.

Regardless of the morale issues, the association’s spokesperson said firefighters’ primary focus is the safety of the public.

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