Fire chief, union president stress importance of a strong working relationship

“I think both the chief and I realize that the resolution is more important than the argument,” Pvt. Jeff Koenigseker said

By Ryan Dunn
The Blade

TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo's fire chief and the president of Firefighters Local 92 are looking toward the new year with a strengthened working relationship.

Chief Luis Santiago and Pvt. Jeff Koenigseker recently sat down for a joint interview with The Blade at Toledo Fire and Rescue Department headquarters. They both stressed a desire to support the work firefighters do.

“I think the thrust of this relationship is that both the chief and I realize that the resolution is more important than the argument,” Private Koenigseker said. “We have been striving to resolve issue, after issue, after issue, and we have more issues. But it's the way you resolve [them], I think, that's most important.”

Chief Santiago said he is pleased with the amicable relationship between the organizations. He praised Mr. Koenigseker for attending weekly staff meetings and offering input.

“It's no secret where we've been, but I think it's a good story where we're at. I think it's even a better story where we're going,” Chief Santiago said.

Local 92 — which represents firefighters up to the rank of captain — in May, 2015 voiced no confidence in the city’s fire chief by a vote of 319-46. Union officials criticized Chief Santiago for poor leadership, repeatedly calling for his resignation.

Union members then elected Mr. Koenigseker as their president the following December. He expressed at the time a desire to work together.

Mr. Koenigseker emphasized late last week that at no time during the dispute was service in Toledo compromised. Services continued, instead, at a “supreme” level, he said.

This improved relationship and communication are good for the city, he said.

“Neither one of these parties can stand alone. We cannot. The fire administration, without Local 92, can't put out fires. The firefighters, without the administration, we can't do our jobs, because there's no structure that's paying us, organizing us, et cetera,” he said.

The lines of communication are again open, and both sides feel comfortable calling each other to discuss matters, Mr. Koenigseker said.

“I didn't feel we could go further, or go forward, unless we were talking,” he said.

Chief Santiago said he understands some firefighters in city stations do not want to see the two men get along. The vast majority, however, like the progress and understanding, he said.

“Even with disagreements that don’t completely reconcile, we still, I think, accept each other's position and respect it,” Chief Santiago said.

Mayor-elect Wade Kapszukiewicz could not be immediately reached for comment.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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