The Austin Firefighters Association is calling out the city's fire chief, saying she is out of line when it comes to disciplinary action. The union says it's affecting moral so much, that if something doesn't change, they might lobby for someone else to take over the job.
Firefighters are being punished for "preventable vehicle incidents." The association says these are human mistakes that could be fixed with educational programs. One after another,11 disciplinary memos in about two weeks.
"Rather than them getting the praise that they deserve, they're basically being put in the public eye and made to look like they're bad guys. This is ridiculous," says Bob Nicks, Austin Firefighters Association President.
Most of the memos are for minor vehicle incidents: from hitting a curb, to a guardrail, to a re-bar post and even striking tree limbs during a response.
"Time matters, time matters a lot. The fires are growing exponentially. When your child is choking or you have a heart attack, it's the death of brain tissue, it's the brain of heart tissue and that's why we get there as quick as we can. If we expect to have a good outcome, we have to have the support from the chief and not be punished if we try to do that," says Nicks.
Firefighters are being temporarily suspended from two to four hours. The violation is for not following Austin Fire Department policies and procedures when it comes to safe driving. It clearly states "AFD's goal is zero contact with other objects."
"When you punish somebody that takes a lot of pride in their job, it's demoralizing and it's not appropriate. The other problem, is when the citizens see a group of disciplinary memos come out like this, it looks like there is a big problem with the Austin Fire Department. That is simply not the case," says Nicks.
The firefighters association says they average less than two accidents a week. That's with 47 stations and around 300 firefighters per shift.
"It's really a gem. With the men and women with the Austin Fire Department, I'm so proud of the work they do every day. When you take that for granted and you start punishing, over-punishing people, you're going to destroy the fabric of that organization," says Nicks.
The Austin Firefighters Association has two national censures on the fire chief. The recent one highlights over-punishment and coercion. If nothing changes, their next step could be lobbying council to get a new fire chief.
"Over time it hurts moral and then further over time it will actually hurt performance. We're not there yet and we want to make sure we don't get there," says Nicks.
Not all vehicle incidents occurred during a response, some were while firefighters were out driving around the city. We reached out to the fire chief but we're told they cannot discuss discipline beyond what's on the memos.