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Fire chief gets hefty pay raise

By By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Dec. 13, 2001
Meridian Fire Chief Bunky Partridge received a 15 percent pay raise in mid-October even though city officials said they couldn't afford to give other employees, firefighters and policemen a raise.
City leaders said Partridge's raise from $54,329 to $62,329 a year was necessary because he also heads a regional center that will train emergency crews in six surrounding states.
Mayor John Robert Smith was reported out of town and could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but city human resources director Gary Matlock said the fire chief's raise was based on the additional responsibilities and awarded at the mayor's discretion.
The money for Partridge's raise came from funds allocated to the Meridian Fire Department's personnel budget which the city council approved in September.
City councilmen voted in September to approve Meridian's budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The budget included a tax increase, but not a pay raise for city employees, firefighters and policemen.
Matlock said no other city employees have received or are expected to receive a pay raise because "they have not been given additional specific duties to perform."
Triple III Corp.
Partridge, a 27-year firefighting veteran, also serves as the vice-president of the Triple III Corp. a nonprofit organization created to write grants and oversee the training center, known as the Southeastern Safety Center.
Triple III's attorney, Bill Ready Sr., was to meet with two City Council members today to discuss the safety center, which Ready describes as "an inordinately outstanding idea coming from some 40 years of city work."
Partridge said two other such training sites exist in the United States in Fairfax, Va., and at Texas A&M University. Although there is no certification for such facilities, he said, the Federal Railroad Administration oversees all training.
Meridian's center will accommodate training for firefighters, law enforcement officers and other emergency personnel from Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, officials said.
The training will use realistic scenarios for derailment and other hazards.
Great need'
Although train derailments do not occur often, Partridge said the probability does exist just as it does with hazardous transportation along the interstate in which firefighters are already trained.
Two retired firefighters will head the program, with classes being offered in eight-hour, three-day and five-day increments. One of the training officers has already received safety transportation certification Fairfax, Va.; the other is expected to receive his training in the next few months.
The FRA already has approved $800,000 in grants over the next two years to complete the training center, Partridge said.
Other commitments have come from Amtrak, which has already donated a locomotive, two sleeper cars and a diner car for realistic training scenarios and from Norfolk Southern, which has committed cross ties and rails, Partridge said.
Partridge said the center has been approved by the International Associations of Fire Chiefs, an organization in which Partridge will advertise the center. Phone calls are already coming in from interested fire, emergency management and police departments, he said.
The center, which could open in about four months, will be in the Meridian/Lauderdale Training Facility off Highway 19 South.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236, or e-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com.

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