Kan. firefighters protest department leadership, working conditions

The Kansas City Fire Department members' union seeks Chief Mike Callahan's removal and issued a vote of no confidence for Deputy Chief Jack Andrade


Aarón Torres
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — Around 75 Kansas City, Kansas, firefighters gathered outside a fire station in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, Tuesday morning to protest safety problems they said have gone ignored by fire department leadership.

The protest came several weeks after the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 64, the union representing members of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department, issued a vote of no confidence against Deputy Fire Chief Jack Andrade. The union has previously called for the removal of Fire Chief Mike Callahan.

JJ Simma, the president of Local 64, said the administration has put in place procedures that have had “a limiting effect on our ability to do our job in a safe and effective manner.”

He declined to describe specific examples, saying he could not comment on personnel issues or ongoing investigations.

A letter announcing the vote of no confidence in the deputy chief said Andrade has had numerous leadership failures during his tenure and adds that his “vindictive personality,” has been a distraction to the members of the fire department.

The letter calls for an independent investigation of Callahan and Andrade. Callahan and Andrade have been in their respective positions since 2018. Simma said that the problems began then.

“For several years, Local 64 has desired to achieve a better working relationship from its department for the benefit of all involved but instead, has been met with hostile working conditions, threats of violence, and unprecedented actions involving members of the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department,” the letter said.

Simma said there have been times when some members have pushed back against certain department policies and, because of it, have faced consequences.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department said it remains committed to working with Local 64, supporting the firefighters and protecting the community.

“The KCKFD does not tolerate workplace violence and we are committed to ensuring a safe environment for all employees,” the statement said. “The KCKFD is committed to providing the highest level of customer service and resources to our community and members.”

In December 2020, Local 64 sent a letter to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/ Kansas City, Kansas, and accused Callahan of using “bullying” tactics to enforce his orders and that the department had mismanaged its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Simma said there was a lack of preparedness from the fire department’s leadership and a lack of personal protective equipment, leading to several firefighters getting sick.

“As a whole, the overall compliance with the ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the health department mandates was inadequate,” Simma said.

Simma said there have been several dozens of complaints filed by members of the fire department since Callahan was appointed as fire chief to the Unified Government. He said those complaints have largely gone unheard.

Simma said going forward he would like to see the fire department improve but would also like to see an investigation completed.

“We would be looking for some definitive action into what is the root cause of this and then hopefully some positive outcomes so that we can move forward,” he said.

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©2022 The Kansas City Star

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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