Texas fire union blames poor morale on chief
In response to the union president's accusations, the fire chief said morale is a two-way street
By Josh Baugh
The San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — Local fire union President Chris Steele blamed Fire Chief Charles Hood on Tuesday for a “crisis of morale” that union members say is rampant within the department.
At a Tuesday news conference, Steele told reporters the vast majority of the San Antonio Fire Department’s battalion chiefs — 20 of 24 — had signed a letter addressed to “President Steele.” Besides serving as union president, Steele is a battalion chief and signed the letter to himself.
“The recent firing of six Cadets, as well as the inconsistent and ever-changing reasons for their dismissal, have (sic) eroded trust and undermined the integrity and credibility of the SAFD administration and led to the lack of confidence in the leadership of this department,” the letter says.
Steele said he sent the letter to Hood and is calling on fire department brass to address the lagging morale. Hood has since responded.
The letter also indicates other concerns, including “heavy-handed and unfair disciplinary actions,” and “training emphasis on diet and fitness at the expense of firefighting skills.”
The letter says the battalion chiefs believe that Hood’s decision to cut loose the cadets was “ill advised, not investigated completely, and sheds a bad light upon the SAFD administration and its handling of this topic.” It continues: “The result is a palpable negative impact on the morale of the members of the SAFD.”
In an interview, Hood said that he takes very seriously claims that morale is down.
“I think morale is a two-way street, and it’s important for us to reach out to those who perceive there is a morale issue,” he said. “But I think there are other factors that are causing morale issues in this organization besides what’s happening in the chief’s office. … I think that it’s important for the membership to have a contract.”
The collective-bargaining agreement for the fire union ended Sept. 30, 2014, and its bargaining team has yet to begin negotiations. The police union, meanwhile, has completed its negotiations and officers are again set to receive annual wage increases.
Though he declined to offer details, Steele said the union would roll out other issues that have harmed morale. He pointed to the hospitalization of two fire cadets and punishment of firefighters for refusing the shake the hands of superiors.
Hood said two cadets have been hospitalized in the past six years — both in 2016 — and that one battalion chief was verbally admonished for refusing to shake a deputy chief’s hand in front of subordinates. A second battalion chief was written up in a similar situation, Hood said.
The fire chief said he can’t fix morale issues alone.
“The association has to take care of their end, also,” he said.
Steele said he hopes the chief would meet with the battalion chiefs to address the festering issues. Hood said he has an open door and offered it to Steele.
“We do have an open door, so if the union president wants to come to me to talk about issues, he’s more than welcome,” Hood said. “That’s more effective than sending a letter and having a press conference.”