IAFF tells Kan. FD to improve or face lawsuit

Local 64 members have raised concerns about retaliation, racial discrimination and harassment; KCKFD has expressed a commitment to employee safety


Aarón Torres
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The fire chief in Kansas City, Kansas, is accused of retaliating against his own firefighters and the Unified Government could face a lawsuit if it does not take action, according to a June 14 letter from the national firefighters’ union.

The letter expressed “deep concern” about Fire Chief Michael Callahan, who was hired in 2018. In January 2021, the union issued a vote of no confidence.

“This vote followed almost three years of unanswered HR complaints, multiple discrimination allegations against department leadership, retaliation against KCK Local 64’s union officers, and reckless policy decisions that put both the public and firefighters at unnecessary risk,” the letter said. “Despite this drastic action, the Unified Government has failed to take any action to reform or investigate the multitude of concerns KCK Local 64 has raised.”

Edward A. Kelly, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, sent the letter to Mayor Tyrone Garner, interim County Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee and county commissioners.

The Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A vote of no confidence has also been issued against Deputy Fire Chief Jack Andrade.

The letter came a week after about 75 Kansas City, Kansas, firefighters gathered outside the downtown fire station to protest safety problems they say have gone ignored by leadership.

In a statement last week in response to the protest, the fire department said it does not tolerate workplace violence and that it is committed to ensuring a safe environment for employees.

“The KCKFD is committed to providing the highest level of customer service and resources to our community and members,” the statement said.

Harrison-Lee, who has been the interim county administrator since Jan. 6, said in a statement last week that she looks forward to working with Local 64.

“I am actively assessing our workplace culture, training, and systems to prepare the Unified Government for its next 25 years,” Harrison-Lee said. “While action has been taken to understand and respond to past claims, we are looking across the organization to ensure we have the policies, processes, and resources to support our employees and managers in a safe work environment.”

Kelly’s letter goes on to say the Unified Government’s human resources department has received complaints alleging a hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation. The letter alleges all three have increased during Callahan’s tenure.

“KCK Local 64 members report that they have been retaliated against for participating in or raising union issues, voicing concern over instances of racial discrimination, and reporting workplace harassment from their supervisors,” the letter said.

The letter calls on Garner and the Unified Government to “rectify the problems” in the fire department.

“Should the Unified Government choose not to engage on this pressing issue, the IAFF will take appropriate legal action to protect its members’ rights — up to, and including, litigation,” the letter said.

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