Former Huntington Garage Employee Describes Safety Issues, Lack of Haz-Mat Training; Gives City E for Effort

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Former Huntington Garage Employee Describes Safety Issues, Lack of Haz-Mat Training; Gives City E for Effort

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Until Friday, Feb. 25, Timothy W. Coleman worked as a mechanic at the city garage.

 He quit that day. He , like other members of the city's workforce fear they may be the next to lose their job.  Coleman, who has a mortgage, felt that it was  time to leave the city’s employment.

“The problem down at the city is everybody is nervous about their job , and all are scared,” said Coleman by phone. “What scared everybody was when a gentleman who had been there 21 years come in and bam, you’re outta here. The body shop man came in one morning and went to City Hall. He came back and got dressed for home. What happened. They let [name withheld]  go, they let Mr. Crutcher go and a few others. That what made me [decide] I got to get something else. Everything I have you make payments on. There’s no way I could do any good sitting unemployed at the house.”

Coleman, who left one working day prior to the accident that critically injured George Willoughby, indicated that the City Garage had some “safety issues.”  However, no more or no less than a similar place of employment, but he felt employees lacked sufficient training, particularly hazardous materials training.  

“[The garage] was a lot of times unsafe, but like anywhere you [work], you have to work around,” Coleman told HNN. “It could have happened anywhere, but , unfortunately, it happened to George Monday at the City Garage.”

A portion of Coleman’s job encompassed mechanical safety.

“It was my job [until Friday] to make sure it was as safe as possible before the mechanics got in there. [Members of the Street Department] would come in and out wanting stuff done. I made sure that the mechanics [used safety jack stands]. If it was hairy enough to get underneath , I wouldn’t permit them to do it. I’d tell them, you’re not working on that truck until it’s safer. I would rather them and myself work on something five hours that allows us time to get it safe to work on.  It caused a lot of arguments, but one life is more important than a couple hours of work loss.

HNN: Was it your job making the garage safer….?

COLEMAN: It was my job to make sure the mechanic work was done properly and as safely as I could make it.

HNN: This related only to MECHANICS and work with vehicles? (pause)  Do you think you could have done anything if you’d been at work on Monday to have prevented the accident from happening based on your job description?

COLEMAN: No. I was not a safety director. I was a foreman who made sure the maintenance was done properly . They might bring a truck in there with a raised truck bed, and I would see a truck driver sticking his head underneath it. I’d blow a gasket . Someone getting hurt, it’s not worth it. It was best for me to move on about my way.

HNN: Were there safety issues, from your perspective, outside your department?  Was it an average garage?

COLEMAN: Yes and no. There was some stuff…. But training was the main thing. Training sessions and stuff like that were supposed to be maintained. The city employees need to be trained a little more. Like for instance, the fellow that got burnt. He was a good friend of mine. He was a good guy. I feel he needed some more training.in anything hazardous things like welding.

HNN: You are saying that the injured employee may have not understood the danger of what he was doing?

COLEMAN: Right. That’s how I feel.  

The former employee then  complimented  George Willoughby:

“He was a super good fellow… I really liked working with him. He was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back,” Coleman said, conjecturing that the severity of injuries may prevent Willoughby from again working. “Anything you would ask that gentleman to do, he would do. He would bend over backwards to help anyone. I don’t have any idea what happened. I don’t know what the barrel was cut up for, but I’m willing to say that he was doing it for somebody, like some other department , maybe , wanting a barrel. George Willoughby did work that would benefit somebody else.”

At the council budget session, chairman Mark Bates had expressed a comment that making repairs at the garage might be throwing away money , inferring that it had too many structural issues.

However, the city has, according to both Finance Director Deron Runyon and Director of Administration and Finance, Brandi Jacobs- Jones, directed that  be made.

“I”d give them an E for effort,” Jones said, quickly noting he was not a structural engineer.

He agreed that repairs had been done during the last two years.

“They put some kind of metal band around each of the columns underneath the ramp itself to hold it together. As far as I know that was all that was done to the ramp

HNN: Did they do anything else?

COLEMAN: They replaced the heater…

HNN: The Chimney?

COLEMAN: Same thing they did with the [ramp] columns. They put a clamp around the chimney. They hired some  outfit to do that. I don’t know if it was the right thing or the wrong

thing. I don’t know anything about it structurally .

            ***

Council chairman Mark Bates told HNN late Wednesday night that he would not comment on the accident “until the investigation is complete.” However, he repeated a statement made during the Saturday Feb. 26 Public Works budget hearings: “Safety of all employees is a top priority.” The statement came two days before the tragic accident.

“George and his family and friends remain in my prayers,” Bates said.

Frances Jackson, chairperson of the public safety committee of Huntington City Council , wants to hear a report from the city concerning the accident, too. She has two specific questions: (1) Was the barrel labeled and (2) does the garage have a safety shower?

            ***

During the Public Works hearing , Brandi Jacobs Jones, director of Administration and Finance, told council members that the city had contracted out safety training contracts to Marshall University and Ohio University Southern Campus.

“It’s cost effective and we have seen less accidents,” she said Saturday.

The safety meetings have focused on electrical safety and defensive driving.

The proposed budget contains cuts and layoffs as the revenue portions is projected to be "flat."

 


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