By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Blue Grass Army Depot firefighters have been granted an exemption from the sequestration furloughs that started this week at the base.
Although the firefighters initially were subject to the reduction in hours, a further analysis of their work schedules showed they should be exempted, according to a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Andy Barr from the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command.
“Based on additional information provided by BGAD, it was determined that the current staffing levels for BGAD firefighters were insufficient to meet the 24-hour shift requirements for firefighters and dispatchers,” Patricia A. Huber, deputy to the JMC commander, wrote. “BGAD’s multiple missions of protecting the chemical weapons and its associated demilitarization activity, along with conventional ammunition storage, would be at an unacceptable risk level if all firefighters were furloughed.”
Huber also wrote that reduced staffing levels because of furloughs would put firefighters’ lives “at too great a risk.”
“I am extremely pleased that the local leadership at the Blue Grass Army Depot and I were able to work together and demonstrate to Army leadership the critical role of the emergency personnel at BGAD,” Barr said in a news release. “This exemption will ensure the safety of the local community as well as the surrounding counties that would have been jeopardized by a reduced force.”
Barr said he has been working with the depot leadership since March to make the Army aware of the critical role the firefighters play at the base and in the community.
In an article in Sunday’s Richmond Register, local leaders and depot workers voiced their concerns that reducing manpower at the depot’s fire station, already at minimal staffing, could endanger the community because the depot houses chemical weapons in addition to detonating and disposing of conventional weapons.
The BGAD firefighters also have mutual aid agreements with the Richmond and Madison County fire departments. Madison County Fire Chief Jim Cox said his department relies on the depot firefighters for increased manpower during emergencies, especially in situations that involve hazardous materials.
BGAD Public Affairs Officer Mark Henry previously said the depot employs 19 to 20 firefighters. He confirmed Wednesday evening that the depot firefighters had been granted the exemption.
Henry also emphasized in an earlier interview that the decision on BGAD furlough exemptions was made by higher-ranking Army officials, not depot commander Col. Lee G. Hudson. He said Hudson and other depot leaders have supported the BGAD Fire Department’s push for a furlough exemption.
Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, are being required to cut their spending by 20 percent through employee furloughs because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The depot security staff, which numbers 153 employees, received a furlough exemption as well.
“This is another example of how we can reduce spending by prioritizing our most essential programs and advance fiscal responsibility as opposed to the indiscriminate, across-the-board sequester cuts that treat all government spending as equal,” Barr said in the news release.
Civilian employees at the depot who are not exempt will be cutting eight hours from their work weeks for the next 11 weeks.
The commander of Blue Grass Chemical Activity, a tenant at the depot responsible for the safe and secure storage of 500 tons of chemical weapons, announced Monday its emergency operations technicians were exempt from furloughs.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.
CLARIFICATION (Published in the July 13 print edition): Blue Grass Army Depot Public Affairs Officer Mark Henry did return the Richmond Register's call after the story was filed and confirmed that the BGAD firefighters had been granted an exemption.