Unrest in the ranks of the Pensacola Fire Dept.

August 16, 2006


Several Pensacola firefighters are upset about how the City is handing the search process for a new fire chief. Current chief Jim Dixon is retiring on Friday.

Local firefighter Dennis Smith sent this email to the Pensacola City Council:

Boy, we don’t write for a while and we find out the rumors are true.  As written in the Pensacola NewsJournal yesterday, interviews will be held for interim Fire Chief.  We hate to say it, but its about time.  This really concerns us.  An acting Fire Chief?

The history of acting Fire Chiefs is they become the permanent Fire Chief.  Think this isn’t so, we are betting that the Melonites are backdooring the system by allowing individuals in who may not be qualified.  Take the case in point.  Why is Chief Waters even being interviewed after some of the things we know about him already?  We’ll tell you.  He has influence and probably has pictures to go with it.

Now we have Chief Waters against several people.  Chief Birgel, a short timer who has some skills, but tends to be emotional.  Chief Glover, a new Battalion Chief with little line experience.  Chief Madison, a leading member of the Brownsville Mafia and also newly promoted.  Chiefs Waters and Schmitt who were passed on the first time because of their skills and backgrounds.  And last Chief Beatty, who will be a good chief someday, but has little experience in the management of a division much less the department.

A concern we have today, is if this position is indeed truly temporary, how hurt will someone be when promoted to acting Chief and then back to their original position, or is there another promotion involved?  The City has a history of closed door operations, especially with things like this.  Why do you think we have a Federal Suit pending regarding promotions?  Will this change our history?  We simply ask, if this is a temporary measure as we are told by Mr. Coby, why are we being lied to?

We have been told this interim Fire Chief will be in position until a nationwide search is conducted.  When will it begin?  Why has it not begun when they identified in June this could be a problem as we rejected all of the original applicants?  What about the letters the original applicants received?  Do they not carry any validity?  What happened to July?  What happened in the last hiring?  If it wasn’t nationwide with candidates applying from Vermont to Florida, Massachusetts to Colorado, we must be wrong in thinking that was not a nationwide search.  Guess we forgot California, Alaska and Hawaii

We need someone who is progressive and willing to work with us.  The Melonites are poised to enact retribution against those who have opposed them and have spoken out.  We are afraid this will become a training department for other fire departments as we have low wages, little encouragement, and are being sent to our room like some child punishing us.  Who was there for the City during Ivan, Dennis and Katrina?  Who is there 24/7?  Guess it is OK to remember us when you need us, but put us back in that box to await your next disaster.  Will we be ready?  Maybe, but will we be the best we can be or at least competent?  Don’t know.  However, if it is like the structure fire on A watch last week, we are in trouble.  We will lose another firefighter.  We just hope it won’t be us.

We are so far out of the mainstream it isn’t funny anymore.  We resemble a backwoods City of the 1950s.  The World has progressed around us.  Baldwin County is picking up were we should be leading.  Why can’t we be a leader again?.  We have the history, tradition and infrastructure to be great.  Today some fire departments are ahead, but they have to work very hard if they want to keep this position.  The department has to never stop inventing and reinventing itself.  We can’t relax. I think in the case of government that is what happened a bit.  Please look at me: I am from the government.
Great firefighters see there were so many things we can do to help improve our communities.  Great departments went ahead and reinvented themselves, and today what we are seeing is a result of that. . . There is no time to rest.  That is gone.

Instead of complaining about what is going on, firefighters and staff would be better off thinking about how you can raise your bar and raise yourselves into doing something better.   Why haven’t many people attended the National Fire Academy, especially the EFO program since it is free?  Or challenged themselves by getting college degrees as the City will pay for them?  Has anyone ever heard about the Fire Officer’s Development Handbook?  It is a simple means to identify how to advance in the fire service.  Why reinvent the wheel?  The book shows you what you need to be able to do to be a good fire officer.

Americans have consistently led in innovation over the last couple of centuries.  Sitting back whining – we have never seen that before.  Great departments have learned to become a little more aggressive in the way they market themselves, which is something we would not have done given our government background years ago.

What’s happening now is just the tip of the ice-berg . . . What is really necessary is for everybody to wake up to the fact that there is a fundamental shift that is happening in the way fire department’s are doing business.  And everyone is going to have to improve themselves and be able to compete.  It is just going to be a global market with private companies willing and able to provide the same service at a reduced cost.

However, if the fire department would look outside of the box and realize that if they worked at it they could produce the same outcomes, with greater community spirit, at comparable cost, the global market comes out of the equation.  It is more than having a degree to be a Fire Chief, it is the ability to see what the community gets for its dollar.   Does it get a service that is adequate based upon fire department’s in the 1970s and early 80s.  Or is it aggressive and provides services based upon expectations established today and looking for future assessment and reinvention.  These are concepts government has failed to grasp.  Perhaps having someone who has been in government and in private business would be a candidate to take this department outside its perceived parameters.

It’s about how you can create a great opportunity for yourself and hold on to that or keep creating new opportunities where you can thrive individually or as an organization.  I think today that rule is about efficiency, it’s about collaboration and it is about competitiveness and it is about being a player.  It is about staying sharp and being in the game . . . The fire service is like a football field now and you’ve got to be sharp to be on the team which plays on that field.  If you’re not good enough, you’re going to be sitting and watching the game.  It is as simple as that.  “While I wasn’t selected for the position, it might be that Pensacola is not ready for that type of philosophy or my management style.  It means that I was not the right fit and would have difficulty showing other departments how important this is.  And if that is the case, the old school would make it difficult internally to make the changes needed to make this a place where people couldn’t wait to come to work each day.  It has nothing to do with me or the way I operate.  It is simply a reflection of what is happening internally.”

We quoted conversations with candidates.  Good or bad, they wanted to give us a shot.  We don’t believe we are being given any opportunity to have a future with Pensacola and hope that people outside City Hall understand that what is happening is the result of burying our head in the sand after Ivan and hoping the government will come rescue us.  We are the government, and we need help!


One Response to “Unrest in the ranks of the Pensacola Fire Dept.”

  1. Isn’t it time the people of Pensacola chose their Fire and Police Chief’s. In most cities the Mayor and City Council (i.e the constituents who elected them) have a major role in selecting department heads.

    I think that it is time to weaken the role of the city manager and join the rest of the country in a strong mayor/council form of government.

    It is time for us to progress; not to remain part of the good ol’ boys circa 1950’s era of thinking.

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