Needless to say, I am disappointed in the recent scheduling of a no-confidence vote by the leadership of the International Association of Fire Fighters. In taking this action, the union leadership violated an informal agreement that was reached in 2011 with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Acknowledging a long history of rancor and protracted disputes, both parties agreed to move forward in a more positive and productive manner. We committed to proactive resolutions of disputes, professionalism and mutual understanding. We recognized that this new model would take time to successfully implement and that there would be bumps along the way. It is unfortunate that union leadership was not willing to give the process more time to positively address its concerns about contract administration.
At this point, I want to be clear in expressing my support for Chief Ron Blackwell and the men and women of the Wichita Fire Department. This department consistently provides Wichita’s residents and businesses with professional and effective fire services. This statement is fact. The Fire Department consistently exceeds the performance of comparable cities in response time, arrival time for back-up units and arson clearance rate. Additionally, the department devotes more time to training, inspects more buildings and protects our citizens in a more cost-effective manner than its counterparts. This level of service earned the department an approval rating of 94% from Wichita residents when they were surveyed in 2010.
The issues that appear to be in dispute at this time involve contract interpretation, not service delivery. While both the City and rank-and-file members of the Fire Department are committed to maintaining the high level of service just noted, this vote reflects that there are issues and concerns that must be discussed between the department’s management staff and the rank-and-file members. As such, I have asked Chief Blackwell to visit every fire station and every shift during the next few months to begin that dialogue. This process will be consistent with the agreement that was brokered by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and will provide everyone in the department an opportunity to contribute toward a positive working environment. The only way we can resolve our differences is through an honest and authentic exchange of ideas and concerns.
Again, I want to express my continued commitment to the delivery of professional fire services in Wichita and to maintaining a positive working environment for everyone in the Wichita Fire Department. I ask the IAFF leadership to join me in this effort and to renew its commitment to a more positive and productive dispute-resolution process.