By Jane Wester
The Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN, Texas — Austin fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr responded to the censure she received Thursday night from the city’s firefighter union by saying her department’s employees have been “seriously misinformed.”
In a statement, Kerr said Bob Nicks, the president of the Austin chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, embarked on a “one-sided misleading personal vendetta” that has damaged conversations about how to keep firefighters healthy and safe.
On Thursday night, out of the 563 Austin firefighters who voted, 490 approved the measure to censure Kerr. The censure is partly symbolic — it doesn’t put anything in her personnel file, but the International Association of Fire Fighters could vote at its convention next month to support the Austin chapter’s vote to censure.
In her statement, Kerr said she refused to apologize for “having high standards, holding the work force accountable, and making sure they’re fit to do their job.”
The firefighters’ vote listed four grievances, one of which dealt with a policy they said Kerr is considering adopting. It would require that all firefighters and fire officials, including those working desk jobs, be physically qualified to work at a fire scene.
The firefighters objected to this idea because they believe it could keep an injured firefighter from working a desk job at the fire department while he or she recovers.
Kerr said the issue “seems to be everyone’s main concern,” but she said it’s too complex for a statement or sound bite. Kerr could not be reached Friday for clarification.
She also accused Nicks of “pandering, telling half-truths, and only giving you the parts of the story he wants you to know,” and she said he “offers unworkable mandates” instead of reasonable solutions.
Nicks said his union’s intent is to “have a positive and constructive dialogue with Chief Kerr and her administration to find solutions to the concerns we have raised. As we have said from the beginning, we are always willing to meet to discuss the issues.”
Copyright 2016 Austin American-Statesman