Union calls for immediate removal of Kan. fire chief

The Kansas City, Kan. fire union cited alleged mismanagement of the fire department's COVID-19 response and "bullying" tactics in its letter to government officials


Robert A. Cronkleton
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The union representing members of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department is seeking the immediate removal Fire Chief Michael Callahan, according to a letter sent to government leaders late last month.

In the letter sent to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor David Alvey and the board of commissioners, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 64 contends in part that Callahan uses "bullying" tactics to enforce his orders and that the department has mismanaged its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union representing Kansas City, Kan. firefighters has called for the immediate removal of Fire Chief Michael Callahan based on allegations of COVID-19 response mismanagement and
The union representing Kansas City, Kan. firefighters has called for the immediate removal of Fire Chief Michael Callahan based on allegations of COVID-19 response mismanagement and "bullying" tactics. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. has defended the chief, calling the allegations unsubstantiated. (Photo/Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department)

"All public servants are rightfully held to the highest standard within the community they serve for great reason," union leaders said in the letter. "In the case of Chief Callahan, he has consistently failed to uphold this standard. Simply stated, Chief Callahan's mismanagement and disregard for the safety of the members of the Department and the community at large can no longer be tolerated.

"The people of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County deserve better; they deserve to know they can fully trust and respect their public servants."

In the December letter, union leaders raised concerns about increased emergency response times "due to poor decisions and bad policy" by the department's administration, increased ambulance response times, the way grievances are handled and the department's culture.

The Unified Government and Callahan called the allegations in the letter unsubstantiated, in a response released Thursday.

"It has always been my primary goal to make solid, well-balanced management decisions that enhance the safety and effectiveness of our Fire and EMS personnel," Callahan said in the response. "We have continued to make progress in this area, in terms of improved equipment, opening a new fire station to serve Western Wyandotte County and protecting the health and safety of our personnel through an unprecedented pandemic.

"I remain dedicated to building this Fire Department and continuing to provide the resources needed to protect the safety and property of Wyandotte County residents."

The union contends that the fire department's administration also has created an atmosphere of denial when it comes to the coronavirus by ignoring CDC and health department guidelines and taken actions that are irresponsible and hazardous to the members of this department as well as the community.

A recent example union leader cited was that a high-ranking fire official may have knowingly exposed fire department employees to COVID-19 by reporting to work at fire headquarters while positive for the virus, the union said.

"While all of our members understand that no single person is to blame for COVID-19's existence in our department, it is unquestionably more pervasive in our fire houses due to the inability to take ownership and responsibility for the past failures from within our department," the union leaders said.

In response, the Unified Government summarized the steps it has taken to manage the pandemic, including:

— Adhering to CDC guidelines for first responders in all of its COVID-19 protocols.

— Pre-ordering, pre-staging, and delivering personal protective equipment supplies beginning in January 2020 before supply chains became disrupted.

— Agreed to place firefighters who tested positive on injured-on-duty statues, the first department in the state do do so.

— Mandated mask wearing, disinfection protocols and temperature checks at the beginning of each shift.

— Placed Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department EMS personnel, along with those in Edwardsville and Bonner Springs, among the first to receive the COVID vaccine.

The Unified Government also disputed that response times have suffered, saying it's average response times for fire and ambulance units faster in 2020 than it was in 2019 and 2018. That average was 6:16 in 2020, 6:21 in 2019 and 6:17 in 2018.

The Unified Government said it is in current contract negotiations with Local 64. It's previous contract expired on December 31, 2018.

"Contract negotiation sessions have been cordial and both sides have laid their initial offers on the table," the Unified Government said. "Currently, we are awaiting a wage counteroffer from the Local 64 Executive Officers."

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(c)2021 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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