Former Lexington fire chief will return to active duty as firefighter/paramedic

bfortune@herald-leader.comJune 22, 2012 

  • Chronology

    Feb. 2, 2003: Robert Hendricks was appointed Lexington fire chief by then-Mayor Teresa Isaac.

    Feb. 28, 2011: Hendricks was asked by Mayor Jim Gray to resign. Hendricks did not resign and filed for leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 and later the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

    May 11, 2011: Hendricks' application for a disability pension, which would have been his second pension, was revealed at a board meeting of the Policemen's and Firefighters' Retirement Fund.

    Oct. 12, 2011: The pension board denied Hendricks' application for disability after two of three doctors found that he was not "totally and permanently disabled."

    Oct. 19, 2011: City officials and Hendricks' attorney announced that Hendricks would appeal the denial of his pension. A hearing was scheduled for a Dec. 14, 2011.

    Nov. 1, 2011: Hendricks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging disability discrimination.

    Dec. 14, 2011: In a letter to the city and pension board members, Hendricks withdrew his appeal to the pension board.

    June 21, 2012: The city announced that Hendricks would be rehired as a firefighter/paramedic.

Former Lexington Fire Chief Robert Hendricks, who has been on leave since Mayor Jim Gray asked him to step down in February 2011, will return to active duty Tuesday as a firefighter and paramedic, city officials said Friday.

Hendricks will be paid an annual salary of $36,312 under the terms of a settlement agreement signed by the city and Hendricks. The city settled an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by Hendricks. His salary as chief was $148,379.

Gray asked Hendricks to step down on Feb. 28, 2011, citing weak management skills and an extreme amount of staff overtime in the Division of Fire and Emergency Services.

Hendricks was on paid leave through Sept. 13, 2011, and he has been on unpaid leave since then.

He applied to Lexington's police and fire pension board for medical disability in May 2011. His attorney, Mark Wohlander, said Hendricks suffered from psychological issues. The application was denied in October.

In March, Hendricks filed the EEOC complaint, claiming he was covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act and was entitled to a job with the city. City spokeswoman Susan Straub said at the time that the city took the Americans With Disabilities Act seriously.

The city was required to comply with complex federal and state employment law as it dealt with Hendricks over the past 16 months, Straub said in a new release Friday.

"There are state laws that limit our authority concerning the position of fire chief," Straub said. "On the advice of our attorneys, we have offered him this position, and he has accepted."

Doctors have cleared Hendricks for firefighter/paramedic duty, according to a news release issued by the city.

Hendricks has had a lengthy career with the Lexington fire department.

He retired as a major in 1997, then became chief of the Georgetown Fire Department.

Mayor Teresa Isaac bought him back as chief in 2003.

One of the biggest sticking points in reaching the agreement was getting Hendricks back to work, Wohlander said.

While on leave, Hendricks, 57, kept up his certifications as firefighter, emergency medical technician and paramedic.

Asked whether he thought Hendricks could perform with firefighters several decades his junior, Wohlander said, "Probably, but probably several people in his department are his age. Part of the requirements of the job are regular physicals to make sure they are physically fit to stay on the streets.

"He's in great shape," Wohlander said.

Hendricks returns to the fire department with one year of seniority. He will not have to go back through certification training, but other than that, Wohlander said, he goes back to square one.

The union that represents the majority of firefighters, which expressed concern with Hendricks' leadership when Gray took office, will represent him when he takes his new job, said Chris Bartley, president of the Lexington Professional Firefighters union.

The settlement states that Hendricks' eligibility to apply for a service pension or to seek disability in the future will be based on statutes regulating the pension and disability fund, not by the agreement.

Hendricks was unavailable for comment. Wohlander said he was in Ashland with his father, who is hospitalized. A native of Russell, Hendricks liked to tell the story of helping his father start the volunteer fire department in that Eastern Kentucky community when he was 16 years old.

Mayor Gray was not available for comment.

By signing the agreement, both parties agree that the case is closed.

"We really appreciate the professional way the city's law department, the mayor and Commissioner Clay Mason helped resolve this matter," Wohlander said.

Gray named Keith Jackson, a 20-year veteran of the fire department, as interim fire chief in March 2011. The department's overtime budget has dropped 96 percent since the 2009 budget year, when the division spent $3.25 million on overtime, according to the city's news release.

Gray said he will appoint a permanent fire chief soon.

Herald-Leader reporter Josh Kegley contributed to this report.Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service