WICHITA, Kansas (KSN) -- In an unprecedented confidence vote, Wichita firefighters overwhelming rejected the leadership of Chief Ron Blackwell along with Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Division Chief of Training Billy Wenzel. They're demanding all three quit the department immediately.
"They're tired and want a change," said Local 135 President Matt Schulte.
City Manager Bob Layton is standing behind Blackwell. He says he's disappointed in the union for scheduling a ‘no confidence’ vote after agreeing last year to move forward “in a more positive and productive manner”.
"It is unfortunate that union leadership was not willing to give the process more time to positively address its concerns," said Layton.
The department was founded in 1872 and has never conducted a confidence vote prior to last week.
Ninety-four percent voted "no confidence" in Fire Chief Ron Blackwell's leadership. Aaron and Wenzel faired even worse with 97 percent voting "no confidence". Fifty-eight percent voted "no confidence" against Fire Marshal Brad Crisp.
Division Chief Tammy Snow was the only one who scored well with members, 93 percent voted "confidence" in her leadership.
Local 135 represents about 350 of the department's 420 captains, lieutenants, and firefighters. Around 67 percent voted.
"I think the vote spoke for the morale," said Schulte. "It's really pretty low. This is a low point being here in front of you today against the fire chief, but the membership wants to be heard."
The union says the last straw for members was when the department erred on reporting scores for last year's promotions test. They say more than 50 percent of the scores were reported incorrectly. The test is crucial in determining advancement and promotion in the department.
They're also upset over large raises for administrators while wages were frozen for rank and file firefighters.
Union leaders also claim administrators with the department have been pushing to violate the terms of the recent contract and staff shifts below 117 firefighters. They say the attempt to circumvent minimum guidelines for staffing puts firefighters and city residents at risk.
In a prepared statement released to the media, Chief Blackwell said he hopes to turn the vote into a positive with a renewed effort to address their concerns.
"The recent vote by the firefighter's union is disappointing but it's also an opportunity for the WFD union and leadership team to focus our efforts and continue working together," a release quotes Blackwell as saying.
Blackwell has agreed to visit every fire station and every shift over the next few months to talk to rank and file firefighters about their grievances.