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Turner slams 'political' move as 3,000 firefighters sign 'vote of no confidence' against HFD Chief

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Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña are pushing back after the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association released a "vote of no confidence" against Peña signed by more than 3,000 firefighters Monday. 

The firefighters' union said the 11-point resolution was led by 97 HFD district chiefs. The letter was drafted last month and presented for a vote. The vote is the latest in a tumultuous negotiation between Houston firefighters and the city. 

Union's grievances in vote of no confidence: 

  • Underfunding and cutting of the HFD budget and resources

  • Decline of HFD fleet and facilities

  • Peña's advocacy of a three-shift model that they say affects minorities and diversity in the department

  • Increased response time to active scenes

  • No command staff changes after HFD's "disastrous" preparations for Hurricane Harvey

  • A high rate of "occupational cancer" for firefighters in Houston and the city's denial of worker's compensation medical claims

  • Peña's "open campaigning against Houston firefighters" with HPD and Turner during the Prop B equal pay referendum

  • Peña's "blaming of Houston fire fighters for the mayor's refusal to negotiate a new fire fighter contract."

The union wrote in a release this move reflected "'serious and urgent concerns' over continuing mismanagement of HFD." 

Turner's Response

Turner slammed the union's actions as "100 percent political" and that Peña was "doing a great job for the Houston Fire Department and an excellent job for the City of Houston." 

"Last month, he (Peña) secured more than $3 million in grant funding to install health and safety equipment in 30 stations to protect firefighters from cancer related hazards. He also recently announced the completion of training for an 80-person Water Strike Team to focus on water-rescue missions. Since Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Fire Department has doubled its water-rescue resources. The department has purchased and received dozens of new boats and vehicles, which will save lives and allow the department to be more effective," Turner wrote in a release. 

Peña's full response

"I am always willing to be held accountable as long as it is fair and based on facts.  The fact is that we have accomplished more to improve conditions in just 2-1/2 years since I arrived here than had been done in the last 20 years prior to my arrival.
Firefighters, all of us, care about the same things and the facts show we have made great strides in addressing these issues with support from both Mayor Turner and City Council. The concerns raised give me a greater sense of urgency to make sure our firefighters are aware of how I am supporting the great work they are doing as evidenced by the following: 

  • Combined investment of over $31 million in the last 3 years for fire truck replacements, compared to $15 million in the previous 3 years

  • Combined investment of over $2 million in the last 2 years for flood response equipment and training, as compared to $100,000, in training only, over the previous 3 years

  • Numerous other accomplishments (see attached fact sheet)

Cancer is not just a Houston problem. It is an issue fire departments are dealing with, nationwide. As a fire chief, I was shocked when I arrived in Houston to realize that our fire stations had zero basic cancer prevention equipment. I am pleased that we have been able to move aggressively in the last two years on the following cancer prevention initiatives. 

  • 17 Fire stations have been equipped with vehicle exhaust removal systems ($774,000 Grant & Match investment)

  • 30 additional Fire Stations will be equipped with vehicle exhaust removal systems by the end of this fiscal year ($1.8M Grant & Match investment), the results of a two-year process to assess, plan, gain approval and purchase systems

  • 30 Fire Stations have been equipped with a commercial Personal Protective Gear washer ($300,000 investment)

  • 26 additional fire stations will be equipped with a commercial Personal Protective Gear washer by the end of this fiscal year ($260,000 investment), again the result of many months of focused work to ensure our firefighters' needs are met

  • Distributing a 2nd set of Protective Hoods to emergency operations personnel ($560,000 investment), another important part of an overall plan

  • Numerous other initiatives (see attached fact sheet) designed to impact firefighters' ability to do their jobs, protect them in high-risk situations and improve our performance as a department, which had been affected by the lower levels of investment by previous administrations.

My focus is now, and always has been and will be, on the safety and wellbeing of the public and our firefighters, and I remain dedicated to continue my work for the benefit of both. Ask any fire chief in any major city in the nation and you will hear that there is always more work and investment needed to keep a fire department's fleet, technology and skills current.

I do know this: it will take all of us working together to resolve the challenges we face. We cannot afford to fight each other. We must focus on fighting fires and floods, and for the resources needed. In Houston, in the past two years, as the numbers bear out, we have been fortunate to receive increased investment for the many requests I've made to our city's leadership on behalf of our department."