Rank-and-file S.F. firefighters call for chief's ouster

Firefighters wrote a letter to the mayor citing a grave crisis in direction and leadership

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s rank-and-file firefighter organizations have penned a letter asking the mayor to replace Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

SF Gate reported the letter followed a meeting Monday at the Firefighters Union Hall, calling for new management for the department with new ideas to address what the group called “the crisis in public safety.”

“It was an unprecedented meeting,” said one source in attendance. “Everyone was there, and everyone was on the same page.”

Sources say the situation reached a boiling point over the Labor Day weekend when the ongoing shortage of city ambulances had some firefighter units waiting for more than an hour for an ambulance to transport their patients to hospitals, according to the report.

The ambulance shortage has been an ongoing problem within the department.

In August, there were more than 374 incidents where it took more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at a call, according to the report. In nine cases, it took more than an hour.

Supervisor London Breed recently announced she had lost confidence in the department’s leadership, but stopped short of calling for Chief Hayes-White’s ouster.

“They say they have a plan, but I don’t know what that really means,” Supervisor London Breed said after meeting with the mayor and fire chief Monday morning at City Hall.

Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said they had not seen the letter yet, but the mayor has “confidence in the chief,” according to the report.

“She has led the department through the worst recession of a generation, and is now dealing with a growing city,” Falvey said.

Firefighters also want a plan to reduce firefighter overtime brought on by understaffing. The letter also calls for a five-year plan to bring the department's aging ambulances and fire apparatuses up to date, according to the report.

“I’ve had to make some tough and unpopular decisions in recent years, but I’m staying positive and professional,” Chief Hayes-White said. “And I want the public to know that a firefighter or paramedic will be on the scene within minutes of any emergency. We are talking about ambulance transport here.”

Chief Hayes-White was just 39 when she made chief. She is now 50 and eligible for retirement from her $320,000-a-year post, according to the report.

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