TOLEDO, OH Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said he will not follow the firefighter union’s call for his resignation after its members voted “no confidence” in his leadership.
“There’s still plenty of work to be done, and it’s my intention to continue to work,” Chief Santiago said on Wednesday.
More than 87 percent, 319 of the 365 firefighters who voted, sided against their fire chief this week.
Chief Santiago questioned the meaning of the vote because, he said, it remains unclear what members were told in advance and how the votes were processed.
“It’s tough for me to come to a conclusion on that based on those two items,” he said.
This vote clearly calls for the chief to step down, said Capt. Jeff Romstadt, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92.
Captain Romstadt said the chief will leave the job if he cares about the city, department, and area firefighters. His tenure shows a “profound lack of leadership, accountability, skill, and above all else, failure to put firefighter safety first.”
“Should he refuse, Local 92 will continue the fight because firefighter lives matter,” the captain said. The union represents 490 privates, lieutenants, and captains.
Captain Romstadt read a prepared statement for five minutes Wednesday from the union’s Washington Street headquarters. He declined to take questions from reporters.
Following the news conference, Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson reiterated her support for the chief in a written statement. The ultimate decision about the chief’s employment rests with the mayor, not the union.
“Any action taken by the firefighters’ union, Local 92, against a member of my administration will have no impact on my decision as to the future direction of the Fire and Rescue Department,” she said.
Chief Santiago has drawn criticism from union officials for several policy changes, including those named in a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report issued after the January, 2014, deaths of two firefighters. He has served in his position since July, 2011.
The chief plans to increase communication with rank-and-file members through public meetings and written messages. He said he is available to resolve these ongoing disputes.
When asked about his efforts to make sure sick time was not being abused, and sending department officials to visit firefighters’ homes, the chief said it likely influenced this week’s no-confidence vote. But, he said, efforts like that are necessary to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
The union president’s characterization of Chief Santiago’s management as relying on “retaliation and bullying” is also off the mark, the chief said.
“Jeff Romstadt is certainly entitled to his opinion. I harbor a different opinion, and so do many others,” Chief Santiago said. The chief said he can only focus on the department and his support for firefighters.
Disagreements between management and union members do not affect the response for city residents in need, the chief said. Toledo firefighters conduct their job with professionalism and will continue to do so, he said.
“The service that we provide to the public is paramount. When that alarm goes off, that’s what matters,” he said.
From The Toledo Blade