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City Terminates Firefighters After Public Hearing

Bottom, Steele Tie Their Termination To Union Vote

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Robert Moore
Herald Staff

The Harrodsburg City Commission voted—for the second time—to terminate two firefighters from the Harrodsburg Fire Department. At a special-called meeting on Tuesday, April 4, the city commission unanimously voted to fire Lt. Jamie Bottom and Capt. Derrick Steele. Bottom and Steele claim their terminations are actually tied to a recent vote by firefighters to unionize.

The commission voted to fire Bottoms and Steele for the first time on March 13. At that meeting, City Attorney Norrie Currens said the city had no explanation for the terminations. After receiving a letter from an attorney representing the former firefighters, the commission voted to reinstate their employment and suspend them until a hearing so they could respond.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Currens read from what she called a statement of facts concerning Bottom and Steele: that Bottom had been pursuing a “romantic/sexual” affair while at work for up to six months with a female citizen and that Bottom and Steele had discussed “sex toys and how they would use the sex toys” on a fellow firefighter’s girlfriend “and would text her about it.” In March, the city stated Bottom made a “threat of physical harm” against a firefighter by telling him “they could clock out and settle it outside of Station 2.” Also in March, the city stated Steele asked the firefighter in question if he “was a snitch” and Bottom responded “do you want to go to Station 2 and settle this.”

In addition, the city stated Steele kept CPR dummies belonging to the fire department at his house and that Steele had started a CPR business “using the City’s CPR dummies for his own business.”

Both men called the city’s statement of facts mostly “hearsay” and insisted their terminations are directly tied to the recent vote to unionize the fire department.

Lt. Jamie Bottom said he had been with the HFD for three and a half years and he’d had no disciplinary action taken against him. Bottom said the women visiting the department were family friends and called the incident between him and another firefighter “a misunderstanding.”

Bottom noted there was no description of the vehicle the female was driving and said the description of his truck in the city’s statement of facts did not match the truck he actually owned. He argued they would have had to park by a dumpster in the well-lit parking lot behind the Harrodsburg Police Department.

“They would have seen something,” Bottom said.

In the incident in which the city stated he’d threatened another firefighter, Bottom said he meant it “jokingly.” He said he’d subsequently apologized to the firefighter, who did not speak Tuesday and is not being named in this article.

“I’m sure in his interview he didn’t say that, but I did,” Bottom said. “Since then we’ve got along great.”

“You fired us with no explanation,” Bottom said. He said he couldn’t understand why the chief and assistant chief were not included in the initial discussion that led to his termination.

“That is irrational,” Bottom said. He said he and Steele should have been able to present their side of the story.

Bottom also bristled at the implication he had been visited by women while at the station.

“You know how that affects me and my family? I can’t get past that,” Bottom said.

“This is not just my job, this is my career,” Bottom said. “I feel that we were disrespected, used as the pawn in somebody’s game.”

The commissioners did not respond to Bottom’s comments. After an executive session, Commissioner Missy Banks moved to terminate Bottom effective Wednesday, April 5. Commissioner Kerry Anness seconded. Banks’ motion passed unanimously.

Capt. Derrick Steele said he had served more than 14 years in the HFD, rising through the ranks until he had been promoted to senior captain. Steele said he had never been disciplined, but he had disciplined other firefighters. He said he’d always followed procedure, and criticized the city’s handling of the issue.

“I feel that this was not done in our case,” Steele said.

“If I had been told anything of this nature was going on, I would have handled it appropriately,” Steele said. “If anybody had brought it to my attention, I would have immediately dealt with it.”

Steele called the allegations against him “almost laughable.”

“It seems like a disgruntled employee coming against me,” Steele said. He denied the conversation about sex toys happened, saying he had advised the firefighter to get an engagement ring.

“I was teasing him about buying his fiancee an engagement ring for Christmas,” Steele said.

Steele said he’d not only taught the firefighter in question, he’d also taught the firefighter’s father.

“These allegations hurt,” Steele said. “I’m sure he did not fully explain that it was about an engagement ring.”

“I would have never threatened” the firefighter named in the city’s statement, Steele said. He also called the statement he’d’ asked the firefighter if he was a snitch “false.”

Steele also denied ever taking the city-owned CPR dummies home.

“I have a good friend who runs a CPR business,” Steele said. “I borrow his equipment.”

Steele said he is one of two CPR instructors employed by the city, and that he’d been an instructor since 2009. He said he only charged students for the CPR card.

“I wouldn’t call that a business,” Steele said.

The captain tied his termination to his position as union president. He said he’d contacted Commissioners Banks and Marvin “Bubby” Isham about the union. He said they’d offered to speak at a city meeting, but had received push back.

“We’ve been completely transparent since day one,” Steele said.

“They provide training we don’t have,” Steele said, which included confined space training as well as supplemental insurance and training assistance.

“It’s a really good union,” said Steele, who said joining was mainly to benefit of the citizens.

Steele said since their departure, the city had closed Station 2 and stopped making medical runs, which he noted constitutes the majority of calls handled by the HFD. Mayor Scott Moseley said the department was still making emergency runs.

“You’ve recklessly terminated us and put the citizens at risk,” Steele said.

“We are seriously understaffed at five,” Steele said, noting the department was sometimes reduced to sending out crew of three.

“I have put my whole life in this department,” Steele said. He said he had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and had three fused discs in his back.

“You didn’t even give me my day to explain what was going on,” Steele said.

For more the rest of the story, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald. Click here to subscribe.

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