95 district chiefs sign union letter calling for 'no confidence' vote on Chief Sam Peña, union says

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña walks into a building in downtown Houston for another round of Prop B mediation Aug. 1, 2019.

HOUSTON – Nearly all the Houston district fire chiefs have signed a union letter calling for a "no confidence" vote on Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña, union leaders said Tuesday.

Union leaders said the letter is part of the grievance process and will be voted on by union members sometime within the next week. The results will be made public after the votes have been tallied, leadership said.

What the district chiefs are saying

Two of the district chiefs spoke at a news conference addressing the letter, saying firefighters are worried about safety at the department because of a lack of leadership. They said that lack of guidance had led to shoddy equipment and people leaving the department.

The chiefs said Peña has failed to address issues that have been reported for about three years.

"None of us are politicians," said HFD District Chief Mo Davis. "We are firemen, and I'm sorry if I lose it, but it's nothing he doesn't know. We've told him we had a committee; we want what's best for the city of Houston."

What's in the letter

Union leaders said some issues highlighted in the letter include:

  • Low pay.
  • Budget cuts.
  • A deteriorating fleet, making it unsafe to operate.
  • Apparatus constantly out of service, causing delays in response time.
  • HFD members having the highest rate of cancer patients the department has ever seen. 

What could happen because of the letter

Union leaders said they hope the letter can bring about positive change in the department, but it's ultimately up to Mayor Sylvester Turner to decide what, if any, action should be taken.

How Peña is responding

Peña issued the following statement about the letter:

"I took an oath to faithfully execute the duties of this office.  I love this profession and consider it an honor to lead the Houston Fire Department and the hardworking men and women who have dedicated themselves to the safety of our community.

"Since day one of my appointment, I have extended the union an open door policy and access in hopes of working together to address the challenges of operating a large department.  

"The continued strategy to discount and discredit the positive work this administration has done is divisive and unnecessary. I know that at the core of their discontent is the union's inability to negotiate a contract for its members. 

"Our firefighters and the community deserve to have the best equipment and materials we can afford and I stand by our work and the significant progress we've made in the last two years in addressing the state of the fleet, firefighter cancer prevention initiatives, and flood response equipment and training.

"My focus will remain on working to resolve the challenges we face.  The City of Houston deserves nothing less than a professional Fire Department ready to preserve the public safety and care for the most vulnerable in our community."

How the mayor is responding

Turner issued the following statement: 

"I have every confidence in Chief Sam Pena. Not only is he doing a great job for the Houston Fire Department, but he is also doing an excellent job for the City of Houston.

"What the union is doing is 100 percent political and I am certain that the public will see it for what it is."