Two days after joining Durham, NC Local 668, 18-year veteran fire fighter Jeff Whitfield suffered a severe injury while responding to an early morning apartment fire. The next day, Local 668, with assistance from the IAFF, mobilized to provide support for Whitefield as he recovers from second- and third-degree burn injuries to his shoulders, back and arms that will likely keep him off the frontline for weeks, if not months.

The emergency call to the Bay Creek Apartments in Durham came in at 6:00 a.m. on March 2. Whitfield was first on the scene as Durham fire fighters began setting ladders and searching for tenants in need of rescue. Whitfield joined other fire fighters helping residents escape to safety, he was injured when his turnout coat caught fire as he was blocking flames shooting through a window to allow a tenant to escape to safety.

Whitefield says he is doing well and in recovery and hopes to return at least to light duty as soon as possible. “We made a lot of swift decisions that morning and I have no regrets. I would do it again in an instant,” he says. “I can’t say enough about the work all the fire fighters did to protect people and the property.”

Whitfield is thankful for the support of the IAFF. Local 668 President Jimie Wright contacted 12th District Vice President Walt Dix, who quickly approved assistance through the IAFF Burn Fund to help Whitefield while he is on workers’ compensation and receiving reduced pay. IAFF 12th District Burn Coordinator Rusty Roberts helped counsel him on recovery matters.

President Wright says Whitfield was extremely thankful to have joined the local when he did, noting that many of the benefits provided by the union are what you hope you will never have to use. “I was just impressed with how quickly everything came together. It really just took one phone call and then all of sudden the IAFF moved to action.”

Local 668 is in a rebuilding phase since President Wright took the helm one year ago. Membership had been slow to grow, primarily because Durham fire fighters, who work in a right to work state, were skeptical of what Local 668 could offer. The local has worked hard to assist members with individual case issues with the fire department, such as disciplinary actions, making sure members are treated fairly and rules are strictly followed. Local 668 also has established a station steward program to improve communication, established a human relations committee with training from the International and created a charitable fund to support members in need.

In addition, Local 668 has enlisted the help of the IAFF in conducting a statistical pay analysis that shows Durham fire fighter pay is 13 percent below the average for similar departments.

The restructuring is paying off with new membership up from 54 two years ago to 248 today, representing 67 percent of the Durham Fire Department. “The way the International has responded to Jeff Whitfield in his time of need is a perfect example of what this union can get done, even in a non-collective bargaining state like North Carolina,” President Wright says.