Amid unresolved labor contract negotiations, controversial changes to city fire operations and the announcement that six more months will pass before a full-time chief is in place, the relationship between Davis firefighters and city management appears to have stumbled firmly onto shaky ground.
The rift may have reached its lowest point this week when the fire union, Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494, announced that its 31 members unanimously voted “no confidence” in Police Chief Landy Black and longtime Assistant Police Chief Steve Pierce, both of whom have been asked to run the Fire Department until January.
Black is the interim public safety director and Pierce is the interim fire chief.
Bobby Weist, president of the fire union, said Wednesday that while the vote is nothing personal against Black and Pierce and that he respects each of them as police administrators, they’re simply not qualified to command the city’s Fire Department.
“The city indicated that (Black and Pierce’s) assignments would be temporary and would not impact the fire services provided to the community,” Weist said in an email announcing the no-confidence vote.
“California state law is very clear about the required qualifications of a city fire chief. Government code section 38611 requires that a ‘fire department shall be under the charge of a chief who shall have had previous training and experience as a fireman.’ While Chiefs Black and Pierce are both good people — and probably excellent police administrators — neither have had any previous training or experience as firefighters.”
Weist further explained that the union does not have confidence in Black and Pierce because they lack training in fire management, organization and emergency operations; they lack knowledge of Fire Department policies; they recently assigned an “unqualified fire marshal” without notice to supervise emergencies; and because general communication has been lacking.
“For the reasons specified above and general discontent with chiefs who do not possess any experience in fire service, morale within the Fire Department is at an all-time low and line personnel have lost trust in Chiefs Black and Pierce,” Weist said in the email.
The two police commanders have been at the helm of the Fire Department since January when then-Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley was forced to step down after he’d exhausted the maximum amount of hours he could work for the city as a retired public employee.
In response to the union Wednesday, the city manager’s office released a statement to say that the city was surprised by the vote, saying “it is somewhat unusual to have a ‘no confidence’ vote regarding interim managers.”
“These were temporary appointments to allow the city to complete its analysis of how and what level fire services should be provided for the future,” the release said, paraphrasing City Manager Steve Pinkerton.
As to the union’s assertion that Black and Pierce can’t lawfully run the Davis Fire Department, Pinkerton said: “The city analyzed the legal propriety of having (Black) and (Pierce) oversee Fire Department management prior to their taking over these roles in January.
“Since that time, Black and Pierce have worked in tandem with the Fire Department’s four fire division chiefs regarding all fire operations issues. The division chiefs, who have a combined total of 88 years of experience as trained firefighters, have operational authority and control over fire incidents and emergency responses provided by the Davis Fire Department.”
Pinkerton also said city leaders plan to sit down with members of the firefighters union to understand and to “clarify information stated in their press release, which the city believes is either inaccurate or misleading.”
The city manager concluded by reiterating that in the fall the city will determine whether it is feasible to share management of fire services with UC Davis. If it isn’t, the search will begin for a full-time chief, he said.
The city’s last full-time chief, Rose Conroy, retired in February 2010.
“We hope the city takes the Fire Department seriously and what we do seriously,” Weist said Wednesday before the city issued its news release. ” (The city) says that they’ll hire a chief in six months. … Well, they said that six months ago and they said that six months before that.”
On the subject of sharing management with the university, Weist said he believes it’s a good idea as long as the two agencies administer a full merger and not attempt a piecemeal approach.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash