SAN ANTONIO – The six cadets allegedly released for drinking in uniform was the straw that broke the camel’s back, said the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.
Union President Christopher Steele lay a "crisis of morale" at the feet of San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood in a Tuesday news conference.
He called for the chief to sit down with the departments' battalion chiefs after 20 of them signed their names to a letter listing several perceived problems with the department's leadership.
The undated letter addressed to Steele cites issues with heavy-handed and unfair disciplinary action, harassment and intimidation of personnel, as well as training priorities and injuries to cadets at the academy.
"If those guys speak, the fire chief should listen," Steele told reporters.
Leading off the battalion chief's letter was the recent case where four cadets resigned and two were terminated after allegedly drinking at a Northwest Side restaurant in uniform. But Steele says that's not the only problem.
"We need to correct a lot of different things that are related to that," he said.
The battalion chief's letter, which Steele sent to Hood on Friday, says there is still a chance for the cadets' reinstatement. Steele says he wants Chief Hood to sit down and talk with the battalion chiefs.
"If they make a criticism then it is their perception and its something that we have to look at," Hood said.
While the chief said there's no chance of reinstating the six cadets, they could all reapply to the department. He also said he's willing to sit down with the battalion chiefs.
"They can always come in and talk to any person on our staff, but it is a two-way street as far as us reaching out and them reaching out and communicating," he said.
Steele raised only a few specific examples of the issues listed in the battalion chiefs' letter: the hospitalization of two cadets at the department's academy and people being disciplined for failing to shake hands.
"So, you don't shake a chief's hand, it's automatic discipline," he said.
Hood and a SAFD spokesman said there had been two instances in which battalion chiefs attending disciplinary proceedings for their subordinates would not shake hands with a superior in the department. One of them received a verbal reprimand; the other received a written reprimand.
As for the hospitalized cadets, Hood said "at least one of them" showed up unprepared for the academy. That cadet had an undiagnosed foot injury, he said.
The two were the only cadets to be hospitalized in the past six years, though department officials pointed out there are two to three classes of about 30 to 40 cadets every year.
"I still think that's a small number if you look at a six-year period. Very small," Hood said.
Both the union and the chief know the city's firefighters will continue to work hard for the city. As for the fire in their own department, it remains to be seen how it will be put out.