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Fitness exams sought for all police officers, firefighters in Medina

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MEDINA — City Council’s Finance Committee tabled establishing a mandatory retirement age for the city’s police and fire chiefs Tuesday night, but leaned toward mandatory fitness tests for all safety personnel.

City Law Director Greg Huber proposed setting the age limit for both chiefs at 65 years. He said setting the age limit had more to do with firefighters than the recent retirement of former Police Chief Patrick Berarducci, who retired at age 66 in June after being on medical leave for more than seven months.

He originally wanted to implement the 65 age limit for all police and fire personnel. Huber said 65 generally is accepted and not unreasonable.

But before considering an age limit, Council members said they want to re-instate physical fitness requirements for police officers.

That policy was halted by Berarducci, Huber said.

“You should be able to perform the duties of saving somebody or running or whatever has to be done in your job description,” Council President John Coyne said at the meeting. “That’s what your position calls for.”

To re-introduce physical fitness testing for police officers, the police union would have to sign off on it.

“It’s a change in the collective bargaining agreement,” Huber said. “We are bound to go to them and negotiate.”

Unlike police, firefighters undergo annual physical testing.

Besides himself and his assistant chief, Fire Chief Bob Painter said all firefighters take annual physicals and ability tests (eight stations like bending, squatting and lifting non-stop in 11 minutes). They earn “fit for duty” cards. As far as a mandatory age limit, Painter said it should be capped across the board for the entire fire department.

“We’ve already had several legal issues in the last three years over that because they are too old to do the job and they don’t want to leave,” he said.

If they don’t pass the tests, they get three months to get in better shape and take it again.

“Our federal age discrimination law is all over the place as far as case law precedent,” Huber said. “We end up in a gray area. As a failsafe, Council would do well to draw a line and say, ‘If you get to this point, you have to stop.’ ”

He said there have been six or seven cases in the last 10 years where firefighters wanted to stay on the force, but weren’t physically fit enough to do so. Most were in their early 60s.

“We all know it only takes one or two claims on any insurance (policy) we have, will increase the city rates for the city,” Ward 2 Councilman Dennie Simpson said.

Ward 3 Councilman Mark Kolesar said he’d like to see physical testing returned for the police and fire chiefs.

“As society keeps changing, that 65 limit might become the new 55,” he said. “I feel like we’re reacting from the past recent situation (Berarducci).”

Coyne said both police and fire personnel should be able to pass physical testing.

Councilman At-large Paul Rose said as people age, stress affects them differently.

“When you’re out there in a stressful situation and you’re the chief and you’re supposed to be making direction, this (he pointed to his head) better be working right,” he said. “If you’re not, you could cause somebody their life.”

He said some people at 40 might not be able to cope with the physical aspects.

“It should be based on what they are capable to do,” Rose said.

At-large Councilman Bill Lamb said if physical testing is re-instated, it probably would take care of the age issue.

“We had an issue recently and we’re trying not to have that issue again,” he said.

Coyne said the consensus among Council members is that police and fire personnel should retain civil service protection and be subject to annual physical testing requirements.

However, on the subject of a mandatory retirement age, that should be placed on the back burner for now, he said.

The administration had wanted to put the age limit in place before Mayor Dennis Hanwell names a new police chief. He has until Oct. 26 to select the person who will lead the department from a pool of three sergeants — Scott Marcum, Brett McNabb and Ed Kinney.

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.

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