SAFD battalion chief suspended, reassigned after forcing firefighters to train in elevated heat

Department confirms Chief Robert Westbrook no longer supervising firefighters

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SAN ANTONIO – A veteran San Antonio Fire Department battalion chief was suspended and reassigned earlier this year after an investigation determined he failed to take control of a fire scene then forced firefighters to take part in physical training in elevated heat levels.

Battalion Chief Robert Westbrook served a seven-day suspension in late July, according to suspension records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

Both incidents happened April 28.

According to SAFD records, Westbrook arrived at an industrial park fire in the 5400 block of Rittiman Plaza, but then failed to request a Conditions, Actions, Needs (CAN) report. This type of report explains the current fire situation, according to an SAFD spokesman.

Westbrook's suspension paperwork indicates that he failed to take command of the fire, which started in a large metal container outside a warehouse and did not "provide any meaningful support," despite being the first battalion chief on scene.

The investigation also determined that later that day, at Fire Station 38, Westbrook forced firefighters who had battled the blaze and firefighters who had taken part in the Battle of Flowers Parade to conduct physical training in "Level II heat."

The department defines Level II heat as a heat and humidity rating that requires additional resources to be added to structure fire responses, additional rehab steps to be taken and longer rest periods and additional medical screening for firefighters.

The day of the fire and parade, San Antonio's high temperature reached 92 degrees -- 11 degrees higher than normal.

The weather pattern had prompted the city's health department a day earlier to issue an advisory warning the public to stay hydrated and to be careful in the heat.

A firefighter who spoke with The Defenders on the condition of anonymity said some personnel were forced to take part in the fire station exercises before they could clean off from the fire.

The city's human resources department confirms Westbrook was reassigned as division chief of facilities following his suspension.

An SAFD spokesman said Westbrook, who has worked for the department since 1999, now oversees facility maintenance and new construction.

Chief Charles Hood declined a request for an interview for this story, but did release the following statement:

It is not the practice of the San Antonio Fire Department to discuss personnel matters. The paperwork relating to the suspension of Robert Westbrook speaks for itself. It is important to state that policies and procedures are an essential part of the San Antonio Fire Department. They safeguard compliance with laws and regulations, give guidance for decision-making, guarantee we perform in a courteous and professional manner and protect the health and well-being of our members. Therefore, ensuring our staff properly implements policies and procedures will always be one of my top priorities.

For six weeks, The Defenders attempted to question Westbrook about his actions on April 28. He said via email he was consulting with an attorney and spokesperson in order to issue a written statement, but never provided one.

Last month, The Defenders caught up to Westbrook prior to a board meeting for the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District, where Westbrook serves as a trustee.

"Unfortunately, if it's not about the Schertz-Cibolo Independent School District, I can't comment," said Westbrook.

He provided the contact information for an attorney who provided the following statement via email:

At this time Chief Westbrook has no comment, except that he disagrees with the suspension and punishment he received, and the decision of the Civil Service Commission to uphold the discipline. He is currently examining his options on how best to proceed.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.