Union cites 'Vote of No Confidence' to remove county EMS chief

·5 min read

Nov. 30—CUMBERLAND — Citing "overwhelming concern for the citizens," the majority of a local labor union's members want a change in leadership.

In an Oct. 27 letter to the Allegany County Government Department of Human Resources, IAFF Local 1715, which represents paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, asked for the removal of Christopher Biggs from his position as EMS Chief for the Department of Emergency Services.

When asked Tuesday by the Cumberland Times-News for comments regarding the IAFF Local 1715 letter, Allegany County Government Department of Human Resources Director Kristi Liller did not respond, and Biggs deferred to DES Director James Pyles.

Ken McKenzie, a Cumberland city employee, and president of IAFF Local 1715, said he would comment on the situation after a Dec. 1 deadline for which the letter asked the county to respond.

"I want to give (county officials) a chance," he said Tuesday and added that the union wants "to hold up our end of the bargain."

'Certainly be retaliation'

The letter states that the "unified body" of Local 1715 wrote it to express dissatisfaction with Biggs.

"We respectfully submit this letter as our official notice regarding a majority Vote of No Confidence," it states.

"We have comprised a list of issues brought to our attention over the years that we believe should be considered by your department," it states of allegations including:

—Low employee moral department wide.

—Hostile work environment.

—Weaponization of Quality Assurance.

—Nepotism.

—Repeated violation of Weingarten Rights.

—Derogatory comments about employees to other employees and the public/patients.

—Inability to implement policies fairly and effectively to all employees.

—Questionable ethics and integrity.

"We, the employees of Allegany County write this letter in great hesitations, and only after much discussing and contemplations. We hesitate because we consider ourselves a team as dedicated and educated individuals," the letter states.

"We also hesitate because we fully believe that if this letter does not have the desired result, and we continue to work under the current administration, there will most certainly be retaliation; be it blatant or subtle. We will ultimately pay a high price for doing what we know in our heart is the right thing for the citizens and employees, current and future, for Allegany County," it states.

"Over the past several months, we have been disheartened by the actions of EMS Chief Biggs. He has tested our willpower and confidence in his ability to lead this department adequately and competently," the letter states.

"During the time Chief Biggs held this position, numerous issues have been brought to his attention regarding employee issues, yet he exhibits ignorance to these matters. This indicates to us that he either lacks interest in the day-to-day operations of this department, or plainly, he does not care about the individuals under his command," it states.

"Based on the severity of these accounts, we respectfully ask for a meaningful response by December 1, 2021. If an answer is not received within the timeline, we will seek other means to satisfy our issues," the letter states.

Concerns were 'rectified'

In an emailed statement, Pyles acknowledged that the county's HR department received the letter.

"Prior to receipt of this letter, and based upon comments from employees, the Department of Human Resources met with the involved individuals to address concerns raised by the employees and immediately investigated their concerns," Pyles said.

"The Department of Human Resources, based upon their investigation believes that these issues have been adequately investigated and addressed and that the concerns raised have been rectified," he said.

"While the letter brought other issues to light, those too have been addressed," Pyles said.

"DES continues to monitor the individuals involved to ensure that the measures taken will continue to improve relations between Chief Biggs and employees and improve employee morale," he said. "Any time a group of employees expresses concerns, Allegany County DES wants those concerns to be evaluated and addressed in an appropriate and professional manner."

In October 2019, the Times-News reported that Biggs was appointed the county's DES EMS chief to directly supervise four shift lieutenants and oversee approximately 75 full- and part-time EMS employees.

"It is with great honor that we named Chief Biggs as the permanent EMS chief for Allegany County," Pyles said at that time.

"(Biggs) takes young, naive and under-confident EMTs and medics and makes them great," Pyles said.

'Engine behind' improvements

On Tuesday Pyles touted the success of the DES.

"The mission of the county EMS Division is measured by delayed and failed calls," he said. "When receiving a 911 call a delay is not getting out the door in three minutes, and delayed calls in 2019 reached the lowest recorded in the last 17 years. A failed call is not getting out the door in six minutes, and failed calls reached a recorded low in 2019 as well."

In 2019, the average delayed rate was 2.35% and failed response was 2.50% for ambulance calls, a reduction in delayed and failed calls of over 80% compared to the 2017 figures, Pyles said.

He also said DES EMS division staffing "is at a record high, and added that the "engine behind these improvements was a combination of proper management, efficiency and increased funding."

With volunteer hours shrinking, DES "successfully obtained over $4 million in state and federal funding during 2019 and 2020, the most grant money secured in the history of the department," Pyles said.

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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