UPDATE: Monday, April 30, 2012
Wichita Fire Department members overwhelmingly approved a no confidence vote for its leaders last week.
In a press conference Monday morning, the union said 94% of union members voted "no confidence" against Ron Blackwell, fire chief.
The "no confidence" vote was also approved for Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Division Chief Billy Wenzel by a 97% margin. 58% voted no confidence against Fire Marshal Brad Crisp, but 93% of the union voted that they DO have confidence in Interim Deputy Chief Tammy Snow.
"This has been coming for a long time," said IAFF Local 135 President Matt Schulte. "They have wanted their voices heard and today is that day."
The union is asking that the department's top three leaders resign immediately. They say a number of issues are to blame, including promotional errors, large raises for administrators, and reduction of response vehicles and staffing.
"The fire administration's misplaced budgetary priorities have, at times, left the city unprotected and unprepared in the event of multi-unit situations," Schulte explained. "The fire administration has ignored the IAFF's assistance and has failed to capitalize on opportunities to boost department staffing by taking advantage of safer grant funding."
Schulte also accused Blackwell of trying to "sabotage" the last WFD
contract by removing certain provisions after the union and the administration agreed on a deal to take to the membership.
"The city manager had to step in again," Schulte said. "He approved the contract and it was ratified by the membership."
In a news conference Monday afternoon, Robert Layton, City manager, said the union violated an agreement by holding the no confidence vote. Layton also expressed his full support for Chief Blackwell.
Mayor Carl Brewer said he doesn't think the fire union should have the right to express it's no confidence in leadership.
KAKE News has been out in front with coverage of the problems within the Wichita Fire Department over the last year. Click on the related links below to read previous articles.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
It appears a deep division among the Wichita Fire Department continues to unravel. Thursday, the local firefighters union held what is known as a vote of 'no confidence' for their top leadership.
There have been many rumors and much speculation of distrust within the Wichita Fire Department for at least the last year. Today, it's very obvious the members are very serious about their concerns.
KAKE News has confirmed through five independent sources that the union conducted a vote of no confidence against the top five members of the Wichita Fire Department. The sources spoke only on a condition that they remain anonymous due to their jobs being at stake.
Chief Ron Blackwell has led the department since September of 2007. He came under intense scrutiny last year when KAKE News reported Blackwell handed out as much as 35 percent pay raises to certain high-ranking members of the department. Two of those members are also part of this no confidence vote. They are Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Safety Training Chief Billy Wenzel.
Also part of the no confidence vote are newly promoted Deputy Chief Tammy Snow, the highest ranking female on the department, and Fire Marshal Brad Crisp.
We do not know the results of this vote against any of the leadership, but we're told the union will present the results to City Hall leadership as soon as tomorrow. What will happen is anybody's guess.
This is not the first time that Ron Blackwell has faced this type of distrust. Back in 2002 while he was leading the Prince George's County, Maryland, Fire Department, volunteer firefighters who make up 75% of that department did this very same thing. They issued a vote of no confidence vote against him less than a year after he took over that department.
So far, none of the leaders have been available for comment this evening and Union President Rocky Bumgarner has not returned our phone calls for comment.
Stay with KAKE News for updates on this developing story.