Conn. firefighters' union votes no confidence in chief, assistant chief

Of the 240 firefighters represented by Stamford Professional Fire Fighter Local 786, only 75 cast ballots


Pat Tomlinson
The Hour

STAMFORD, Conn. — The city's firefighters union has voted no confidence in Fire Chief Trevor Roach and Assistant Fire Chief Miguel Robles.

Of the 240 union-represented firefighters, only 75 cast ballots. Of those, the majority — 49 firefighters — stated they have no confidence in Roach or Robles.

In a 49-to-25 vote with one abstention, Stamford firefighters who voted overwhelmingly stated that they have no confidence in Roach or Robles; however, only 75 of the 240 union-represented firefighters cast ballots.

Paul Anderson, president of Stamford Professional Fire Fighter Local 786, said the vote of no confidence taken on June 15 and 16 serves as a method to bring "serious concerns of public safety and mismanagement" to the public's attention without interrupting firefighters' service to the city.

"It's as simple as this: Our members do not have confidence in our fire administration. It's a toxic atmosphere, and we're just trying to send a message that their behavior is unacceptable. The way that labor is treated, the way that memberships are treated and have been treated are unacceptable. We're just going on the record to show the city's administration and the fire administration that members do not have confidence in these people as leaders," Anderson said.

Mayor Caroline Simmons did not respond to requests for comment on the vote of no confidence.

In the wake of the no-confidence vote, Robles and Roach defended their administration. Both said that the administration's record "speaks for itself."

In particular, Roach fought back against claims that his administration has been "tyrannical." Instead, Roach said, his administration has "been fair, open and effective."

"We hope to create a more productive relationship with Local 786 officials," Roach said. "Our firefighters are the best around and the majority know how proud I am of them and the opportunity to lead them and best serve the people of Stamford."

Robles, who said that he has not seen a no-confidence vote at the Stamford Fire Department over his 35-year tenure, said the vote came as a shock to him.

"It is a surprise because, like I said, I stand by my record. I believe we are one of the best fire departments in the state. We're very safe, we take care of our firefighters, so for those reasons, it was kind of a shock to me," Robles said.

In a six-page "no-confidence" resolution sent to the administration by the union, firefighters provide a list of grievances against the department's administration, including actions that they claim have left the department low on manpower and overworked.

The list of grievances includes accusations that Roach and Robles "purposefully and wantonly" disregard the department's collective bargaining agreement, "have failed to adequately train personnel," give their "'inner-circle' unlimited overtime opportunities," and have created a "hostile working environment" where "subordinates are perpetually working in a state of fear that any minor infraction or error in judgment will lead to heavy-handed disciplinary action."

The resolution isn't the first time that the firefighters union has accused the fire administration of overblown disciplinary action. In September, the union filed a grievance against the department after former union president Brendan Keatley was fired for "systematically creating false reports" regarding building inspections. At the time, Anderson claimed the firing "stinks of politics."

The resolution also claims that Roach and Robles "abandoned their duties and were absent from their command positions," during the Feb. 1 terrace collapse at the Allure apartments on Pacific Street. In the resolution, the union claims Roach was "absent without leave" and Robles "failed to deploy appropriate fire personnel or follow SFD policies and procedures to investigate and potentially mitigate a life-safety issue."

Roach and Robles deny the claims.

The union also complained about a 2020 decision by the city that allowed Roach and Robles to collect pensions while still collecting salaries.

The vote of no confidence comes, the resolution states, after union members have exhausted all options to try and work with an administration they claim "operates with impunity, recklessness, malice, contempt and disregard for the women and men who sacrifice their lives to work for the greater good of this city."

"The fire fighters that swore to protect this great city at all costs now find themselves at the mercy of a hostile, unethical and inept fire department administration which is compromising the overall mission of providing the best possible service to Stamford residents. We have — and will continue to — stay diligent in our duties, but we cannot remain silent any longer," the resolution reads.

In a 36-page letter to the department obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, Roach and Robles claimed that their administration has spent a lot of time rehabilitating the department's reputation after a previous administration that, they claim in the letter, "spent a lot of time in the headlines — and not for fantastic things."

"Constant squabbling among factions of the department led to a lack of focus on our main objective — protecting the lives of the citizens and guests of the City of Stamford," the letter reads.

When Roach, a member of the department since 1984, was promoted to fire chief in December 2015, he said he set two goals: to create a level playing field for all members and to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

In the letter, Roach and Robles state that newly set supervisor standards and qualifications for all segments of the department have helped them achieve their first goal.

As for the second goal, they say in the letter that efforts have been stifled by the union, who they claim "has pushed back at every attempt to settle a new contract."

"To remove a source of contention and distraction, the Fire Administration even took the extraordinary step of removing itself from direct negotiations. Yet, Local 786 is the only union that has not settled with the city," the letter reads.

The administration's letter also states that, under the current fire administration, the department has redesigned the water delivery system for areas of the city with no hydrants, made numerous health and safety improvements through policy and equipment upgrades and negotiated a working relationship with the city's volunteer fire companies.

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(c)2022 The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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