Cleveland firefighters give chief vote of no confidence
Firefighters listed a dozen issues that they said prove Chief Angelo Calvillo is jeopardizing public safety, including failing to test or replace equipment
By Mark Naymik
Advance Ohio Media
CLEVELAND — Firefighters rarely like their chiefs. Cleveland firefighters are no exception.
But tensions between the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 93 and Cleveland Chief Angelo Calvillo are running hot enough to raise alarms.
Union members passed a resolution Thursday declaring that they have no confidence in Calvillo. More than 80 percent of the department’s 750 union members cast ballots. The tally: 620 voted for the resolution; 16 voted against it.
The union says the vote is not a middle finger to the chief but rather a move to get attention of City Hall and City Council. The resolution asks council, which has the authority to question the administration, to investigate the union’s complaints, including allegations that public safety is being jeopardized.
The union told the Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley two weeks ago about its plan for the vote.
Kelley said in an email to cleveland.com on Friday that he has heard from the union and will follow up on the issues being raised in a committee hearing.
“Generally, council does not get involved in any collective bargaining issues or union issues,” he said. “But because the letter sent to me alleges safety concerns, council will hold hearings on this matter. I have spoken with Safety Chair Matt Zone and [Safety] Director [Michael] McGrath.”
The resolution lists a dozen issues that the union claims are evidence that Calvillo is mismanaging the department and jeopardizing public safety. These range from complaints that Calvillo is ignoring the collective bargaining agreement, and failing to test equipment, such as aerial and ground ladders, as prescribed by state law, to failing to replace deteriorating equipment. (You can read the resolution in the box below.)
While some of complaints sound like the ones the union has complained about for decades with almost every chief, several jumped out to me and certainly deserve some consideration.
First, the union said the department’s arson unit, formally known as the fire investigative unit, is woefully understaffed and lack training.
Francis Lally, president of the union, stated in an email to cleveland.com that seven people staff the unit, but a minimum of 14 are needed to keep up with demand and provide thorough investigations.
“In the past, the unit has been staffed with as many as three captains, six lieutenants and nine firefighters,’ he said.
No easy fix is available, he added, because training arson investigators takes 12 months.
The resolution also said the department’s Fire Prevention Unit, which inspects buildings for fire code violations, is not keeping up. Downtown high-rise buildings should be inspected annually, but many are not.
“Now more than ever with an increasing population of residents in downtown high-rise buildings and the change of occupancies of commercial and industrial structures to residential units, we have to ensure that building owners are compliant with the fire code,” Lally wrote.
Lally said the unit has 22 members but needs a minimum of 28 or 29 members as well as additional computers and workspace.
I contacted the city to request comment on these and other items in the resolution and to request an interview with Calvillo. A spokeswoman for the mayor said they will look into it and get back to me. I’ll add the city’s response if and when I get one.
Calvillo was sworn in as interim chief in October 2015, following a revolving door of chiefs. He inherited a department recovering from a high-profile payroll scandal and a failed negotiation to merge with emergency medical services. At the time, Calvillo also had his own troubles. As this 2015 cleveland.com story details, Calvillo was accused of abusing his power and was required to meet in 2015 with a consultant that provides anger management and training in workplace communication skills.
Also underlying the tension between the union and the department is perpetual contract negotiations. The union and city ratified their 2016-2019 contract just last summer. It expires at the end of March. So, the city and union are now beginning negotiations on their next contract.
Mayor Frank Jackson’s 2019 proposed budget shows about a $12 million increase in funding for the department, including boosting the number of uniformed members to around 760.
Without the city’s input, it’s unclear what exactly the increase could mean for the department and how it might address safety issues raised by the union.
But union deserves answers from the city about safety concerns.
And so do taxpayers who backed a significant income tax increase in 2016 based on a promise that they will receive better services.