'Somebody’s going to get hurt': Pa. union delivers no-confidence vote on fire chief

The Bethlehem firefighters' union says Chief Warren Achey has failed to address grievances and made threats over staffing

By Lindsay Weber
The Morning Call

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Bethlehem’s firefighters union has overwhelmingly supported a “vote of no-confidence” against fire department Chief Warren Achey, its president said Tuesday night.

Brian Salabsky, president of Bethlehem Firefighters IAFF Local 375, said a “lack of effective leadership,” “poor communication” and a “threatening” work environment from Achey led to the union’s no-confidence vote.

“No union and administration see eye to eye, but this is way beyond that,” Salabsky said at Bethlehem City Hall Tuesday night. “This is a membership body that has lost confidence in Chief Achey’s ability to lead this department.”

In a phone interview with The Morning Call, Salabsky said morale among Bethlehem firefighters has been in “decline” since Achey was appointed as chief in 2017. Achey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, 88 out of 95 union members voted “no-confidence” in Achey, four voted to support the chief and three did not participate in the vote, Salabsky said. He called on Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds to replace Achey with “a leader committed to working with us.”

He detailed ways in which he said Achey had cultivated a “toxic” environment for union members, including failing to address grievances, threatening to hire less firefighters per shift and disbanding the department’s special teams.

According to Salabsky, the fire department is understaffed because around seven firefighters have left their posts recently and Achey has not updated the city’s civil service list, which is a list of qualified candidates who have passed a civil service test. To fill shifts, many firefighters are working overtime, which takes a toll on them, Salabsky said.

“Somebody’s going to get hurt,” Salabsky said.

Achey had previously been an assistant fire chief and, according to a LinkedIn profile, has worked for the department since 1992.

City Council member Grace Crampsie Smith said she “supports the firefighters union” and hopes the union and city can work together to “dispel any disarray or conflict within the fire department.”

Reynolds said city officials have “reviewed [Salabsky’s] concerns” and have a meeting scheduled with union members at 1 p.m. Friday.

Salabsky said Reynolds has been “receptive” to the union’s concerns and has conducted his own investigation into their complaints.

©2023 The Morning Call.
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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