AFD Chief Kerr shuts local union president out of firefighter job

As Austin grows, that means changes for Travis County Emergency Services District 4.
The Austin City Council and the ESD 4 board agreed in June to merge operations...meaning ESD 4 firefighters could apply to join the Austin Fire Department.

"Basically what we're doing is we're allowing people that already serve the City of Austin to be able to come in and if both sides are agreeable they can become Austin firefighters and then we take over the entire service of that area," said Austin Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks.

Nicks says one Travis County firefighter instrumental in the years-long negotiation to make this happen: Lt. Andrew Garcia, President of the "Local 4848" union.

"Really if you want to pick a project hero that got us here, it was Andrew," Nicks said. 

But Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr has decided Garcia isn't becoming an Austin firefighter.

"It's tarnished my reputation to some extent and I want the truth out there," Garcia said. 

Garcia says he recently got an e-mail from Chief Kerr, thanking him for participating in the merger process but adding he's no longer being considered for employment because of a failed background investigation.

"Is this really happening?  How is this happening?  I've worked side by side with these fire chiefs, I've sat next to them in these proceedings.  We've worked together," Garcia said.    

Garcia says when he was a cadet he got into an altercation with a fellow cadet and didn't list that on his personal history inventory.

"It was an item that was 9 years ago.  The important thing to note there was the fire chief that suspended me at the time enrolled me into the next class and I became valedictorian," he said. 

But Garcia says he did explain the situation to the department when they asked.

Both Nicks and Garcia feel like the real reason for disqualification is retaliation.  Garcia appeared before the Austin City Council in February, speaking against a policy Kerr supported.

"The fire chief is...very much stubborn when she wants something, she doesn't like people opposing her.  For instance I've been greased up to be terminated twice myself by this chief for little or no reason," Nicks said. 

In a statement to FOX 7 Chief Kerr says “There is no more honorable profession than serving your fellow human beings.  To be a member of the Austin Fire Department means protecting our values and holding each other to the highest standards at all times, whether in uniform or not. it means representing our department in a manner that we can all be proud of.  The men and women of the Austin Fire Department are the best representation of our pride and commitment to serve others, and I expect each of them to serve with dignity, honor, and integrity.  It is for these reasons that we spend so much time vetting those who wish to join our ranks; we don’t take just anybody.  We only hire the best of the best," Kerr said.  "All that being said, Mr. Garcia was treated no differently than any other candidate in any of our other hiring processes.  Although we do not discuss personnel matters, I will tell you that Mr. Garcia was dismissed from our current process for valid reasons.”

Kerr's letter to Garcia said the decision is final and not subject to appeal.  If Garcia doesn't get this resolved, he's out of a job on October 1.

"My ultimate goal here obviously is to be reinstated.  The reason I was disqualified is not a valid reason," Garcia said. 

"Maybe this is finally the issue where she's sticking her thumb in the eye of a Hispanic union president and making him lose his career...maybe this is finally the issue the community will take notice and do something about it," Nicks said.