While the Metro Police Department is currently defending itself from charges that its off-duty employment policy is rife with abuse, the Fire Department has so far skirted the issue. But much like their colleagues in blue, employees at the Fire Department also work on the sideopening themselves up to the same thorny questions about whether their moonlighting affects their full-time jobs.
While there are some rules that now govern secondary employment at the Metro Police Department, the mayor’s office only recently became aware that firefighters are allowed to work off-duty jobs without notifying their supervisors. Nor did the mayor know that it’s permissible, if not likely, for those same supervisors to work side-by-side with their employees at off-duty jobs. Says Bill Phillips, the mayor’s chief of staff: “I guess we need to sit down and draft some internal guidelines on secondary employment.”
Assistant Fire Chief Steve Meador is a case in point. For nearly 13 years, Meador, who works in the department’s EMS Division, has moonlighted for MedCor, an Illinois-based company that provides on-site medical services and first aid. On his annual financial disclosure form, Meador lists his part-time employment at MedCor as a paramedic, making $10.50 an hour. But Meador’s role with the company also extends to various supervisory and administrative duties, according to a MedCor official.
“He is the lead person for, say, Starwood. If we have a concert, the general manager would come to him if there were any problems,” the company’s Ben Petersen says.
“He would be the one who would do the oversight to make sure that the paperwork and patient-care reports were done correctly. He would make sure that the hours were recorded well so that people can be paid.”
Numerous city facilities rely on MedCor for a range of services that may include everything from making sure there are enough Band-Aids in the First Aid Room to providing emergency care if a patron suffers a heart attack. According to Petersen, around 22 other Metro firefighters work for MedCor, most of whom are paramedics.
Meador used to work as a medical administrator for MedCor where he assigned Metro paramedics to work off-duty shifts for the company. But around the time then-Mayor Phil Bredesen began investigating Metro policies on secondary employment in 1997, Meador resigned his managerial position (though not his paramedic duties) with MedCor, and the company assigned some of his responsibilities to Debbie Meador, his wife at the time. About the mayor’s investigation, Meador says, “That’s when I decided I had to clear myself of any kinds of questions.” He says his now-ex wife handles the scheduling.
But Mike Wooley, the senior director of administration for the Gaylord Entertainment Center, says the arena has had a contract with MedCor and both Steve and Debbie Meador serve as his contacts. “All we would do is contact them and say we’ve got an event coming up, and we need two or three EMTs, and they made sure we got them,” he says.
Meador’s work for MedCor has raised eyebrows in part because of his high rank at the department. For example, as the assistant chief of the EMS division, Steve Meador is over many of the paramedics who work for MedCor. He is in charge of daily operations including granting vacation time, administering overtime, station assignments, and staffing shifts. Meador also makes policy and procedures, investigates public complaints against EMTs and paramedics, and can recommend disciplinary action against employees.
At the very least, Meador’s clear position of authority creates the potential for abuse considering his job at MedCor. For example, if a paramedic chose to work for a rival company of MedCor’s (and around 10 do work for the Cincinnati-based Medic One Ambulance Service), or if they refused to work for MedCor entirely, would they be penalized for that at the Fire Department? Conversely, if a paramedic does, in fact, work a lot of shifts for MedCor, will Meador grant them favorable treatment?
Meador, who has no financial stake in the company, says his dual work for Metro and MedCor is as “clean-nosed at it can be,” while Fire Chief Buck Dozier say he hasn’t had a single problem brought to him about this.
Debbie Meador says she schedules Metro paramedics for off-duty work based strictly on their length of service to MedCor. She also insists that paramedics face no repercussions for turning down an assignment. “I could not hurt a flea,” she says. “And as far as Steve, he is an honest man.”
The question, however, is how much the Fire Department wants to rely on personalities rather than rigidly defined policies. Considering how the Police Department’s entrenched culture of off-duty work has resulted in not just bad publicity but blatant conflicts-of-interests, apparent cover-ups, and associations with shady characters, it might make sense for Dozier to get a handle on what’s happening in his department. Currently, rank-and-file Fire Department employees are not required to disclose what work they do off-duty and, in fact, Dozier didn’t know who in his department was working a secondary job.
Department officials now are working with the mayor’s office to develop internal guidelines. Says Phillips, “They probably need to be addressing it before it becomes a problem.”
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