Over 3,000 of Houston’s nearly 4,000 firefighters signed a document expressing their disapproval of Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Peña, a document released by the Houston Professional Firefighters Association states.
Complaints in the 11-point no-confidence resolution released Oct. 7 include aging equipment, high cancer rates among firefighters, Peña’s efforts to restructure the department’s shift schedules, and the ongoing legal dispute over Proposition B, the voter-approved ballot initiative that mandates equal pay between firefighters and police officers.
Ninety-seven HFD district chiefs organized the vote in early September. Legally, a decision about the chief’s continued employment must be initiated by the mayor, HPFFA attorney Troy Blakeney told reporters when the vote was announced.
The vote is meant primarily to draw attention to perceptions of department leadership among union members.
Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement Oct. 7 indicating that the vote was collected in response to the ongoing dispute over Proposition B, which most recently ended in impasse and now awaits ruling from a state appeals court. He said he has no intention of initiating Peña’s termination.
“What the union is doing is 100% political, and I am certain that the public will see it for what it is,” Turner said.
Turner has recently been touting investments in equipment for the department as well as a $2.7 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant secured by Peña in September. The grant will supply vehicle exhaust removal systems for 30 fire stations to reduce exposure to carcinogens.
Between Fiscal Years 2017-18 and 2019-20, the city has budgeted a total $31 million for vehicle purchases including 9 new high-water vehicles, city budget documents state.
“We must focus on fighting fires and floods, and for the resources needed,” Peña said in a release. “In Houston, in the past two years, as the numbers bear out, we have been fortunate to receive increased investment for the many requests I’ve made to our city’s leadership on behalf of our department.”
Despite these increasing investments, the fire department’s budget has not kept pace with the city’s overall budget. From FY 2009-10 to 2018-19, the city’s general fund grew 33% while the fire department’s budget increased by 15%.
“This historic vote reflects the hope of Houston firefighters that our fire department can be improved despite the loss of confidence in the fire chief,” HPFFA President Marty Lancton said in a statement.