The Or­lando

Or­lando Fire’s leader la­bels the vote a ‘smear cam­paign’

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Caitlin Doorn­bos Staff Writer

Pro­fes­sional Fire Fight­ers union casts a vote of no con­fi­dence in Or­lando Fire Depart­ment Chief Rod­er­ick Wil­liams, who says the act is re­tal­ia­tory for him not bend­ing to some of the union’s con­tract de­mands.

Mem­bers of the Or­lando Pro­fes­sional Fire Fight­ers union cast a vote of no con­fi­dence in Or­lando Fire Depart­ment Chief Rod­er­ick Wil­liams, who says the act was re­tal­ia­tory for not bend­ing to some of the union’s con­tract de­mands.

About 265 of the union’s ap­prox­i­mately 500 mem­bers voted — and 93 per­cent of those that voted said they had “no con­fi­dence” in Wil­liams’s lead­er­ship, said union pres­i­dent Ron­ald Glass.

“It’s a wake-up call to the chief,” he said. “The peo­ple that you lead don’t have con­fi­dence in you.”

Wil­liams ar­gued the vote is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all opin­ions in a nearly 600-per­son depart­ment be­cause not ev­ery­one voted.

The vote holds no of­fi­cial con­se­quence for the chief, who is ap­pointed by the mayor. Wil­liams said he thinks the move was part of a “smear cam­paign” against him af­ter the city sided with him on a pro­posed bud­get in Septem­ber that in­cluded some is­sues that the union protested.

“It’s not the nail in my cof­fin,” said Wil­liams, who has been chief since 2015. “Ev­ery leader that is en­gaged in pos­i­tive change will ex­pe­ri­ence this type of tur­bu­lence.”

The union-protested is­sues, spear­headed by Wil­liams, in­cluded ran­dom drug test­ing and changes to the way em­ploy­ees can be trans­ferred and dis­ci­plined.

Glass said that while the con­tract is­sue caused frus­tra­tion, the union dis­cussed hold­ing a vote of no con­fi­dence “months” be­fore the city coun­cil’s Septem­ber vote on the con­tract.

“[The con­tract] wasn’t the end-all, be-all is­sue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a smear tac­tic at all.”

The union said that Wil­liams’s “fail­ure of lead­er­ship” prompted the vote, ac­cus­ing him of “re­fus­ing to openly ad­vo­cate for im­proved men­tal and phys­i­cal as­sess­ments” and fail­ing to keep staffing and equip­ment lev­els on pace with the “ex­plo­sive growth of the city.”

This fis­cal year, there are ap­prox­i­mately 1.92 OFD fire-

fight­ers per 1,000 res­i­dents — down from 1.95 last year and the low­est rate since at least 2005, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 city bud­get. The rate is higher than the av­er­age 1.28 per 1,000 res­i­dents for sim­i­larly-sized fire de­part­ments in the South, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion study.

“We de­serve a fire chief equally com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing us with the tools we need to get the job done,” Glass said.

Wil­liams called the ac­cu­sa­tions “base­less,” say­ing the city is adding 12 more fire­fighter po­si­tions to the depart­ment this year.

The union also crit­i­cized Wil­liams’s re­sponse to re­cent ma­jor

emer­gen­cies. They said he was “un­pre­pared” for Hur­ri­cane Irma and “took up to four days to check on spe­cial needs ci­ti­zens” in the city. The Or­lando Sen­tinel re­ported fire­fight­ers and in­spec­tors con­ducted in-per­son well­ness checks at all se­nior fa­cil­i­ties in the city three days af­ter the storm.

Wil­liams said the depart­ment checked up with those on the city’s spe­cial-needs reg­istry be­fore and im­me­di­ately af­ter Irma struck. He also pointed to the depart­ment’s ef­forts to de­liver ice and water to those in need.

Re­gard­ing the Pulse night­club shoot­ing, the union claimed he is “re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge in­ci­dent short­falls” and crit­i­cized what they say is his “re­sis­tance to con­duct­ing an af­ter-ac­tion re­port and re­luc­tance to cre­at­ing a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy/stan­dard op­er­at­ing

pro­ce­dure.”

Wil­liams said the depart­ment has com­mis­sioned an agency to con­duct an af­ter-ac­tion re­view, which will start next month. He said lit­i­ga­tion, the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ma­jor events such as Hur­ri­cane Irma de­layed the start of the re­port. Glass said the process should have be­gun sooner.

Wil­liams said while the vote was “dis­heart­en­ing,” it’s not re­flec­tive of the opin­ion of most OFD em­ploy­ees and he is not tak­ing it per­son­ally.

“We are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, we have a great staff,” he said. “This lit­tle vote is just an­other op­por­tu­nity to show naysay­ers how good we are.”

cdoorn­bos@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com; 407-650-6931; Twit­ter: @CaitlinDoorn­bos

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