Morale low after Texas fire chief slashes overtime

The dept. cites a "lack of communication" and unwillingness to work with labor as major concerns

Robert Cadwallader
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON, Texas — Firefighters complained to the City Council on Tuesday evening about a lack of communication, flagging morale and other problems they blame on Fire Chief Don Crowson and the Arlington Fire Department leadership.

The speakers were among about 40 members of the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters Association at the meeting. A similar number turned out for the Aug. 2 council meeting to voice similar concerns and to question the delay in releasing a study aimed at improving labor relations.

That study has been released, but the frustration apparently hasn’t eased. The consensus Tuesday seemed to be that the problems are not fixable under the current leadership.

“I’m afraid people will start leaving [for other fire departments] … and afraid that people won’t want to apply here anymore because of the reputation we have,” Jonathan Miller, an eight-year Arlington firefighter and one of six speakers, told the council.

“I’ve seen the Fire Department’s shortcomings here being placed on the backs of the employees, and the blame placed there as well. It’s unfair and shameful.”

After the meeting, association President David Crow said the study by Coleman and Associates in Dallas addressed “exactly the concerns we had — a lack of communication, lack of willingness from our administration to work with labor and with the organization as a whole, and to be transparent.”

But Crow said he’s not optimistic about improvements.

“We’ve been working for five years with the current chief and leadership with no success, and we feel like we’re moving further backward,” he said.

The association counts all but about 10 of the department’s 323 firefighters as dues-paying members.

Crowson acknowledges problems in the department, which he blames mostly on his decision to drastically cut the overtime budget, an extra paycheck boost that for some firefighters reached “tens of thousands of dollars” a year.

“Overtime has been a morale impact,” Crowson said before the meeting. “Money is important to people, and I understand that. But one of my primary obligations is to make sure the organization is run efficiently.”

Crowson said he reduced overtime expenses from $3.1 million in fiscal 2015-16 fto about $1.5 million so far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But there are other problems, he said, adding that he hopes the study will provide “insights … that will help me do better to help us work through these difficult issues, without becoming an unnecessary distraction for the organization.”

Crowson said of his firefighters and other employees: “These are good people reacting to the overtime issue. I hold them in the highest regard and understand how they feel.”

In a four-page response to the Coleman study, Crowson vowed to take recommendations seriously and proposed hiring a “specialized consultant” to assess the department leadership, “including myself,” and develop a long-term plan addressing 10 points in the study, including the department climate, reputation, core values, mission, leadership philosophy and “complaints about toxic leadership.”

Copyright 2016 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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