Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena confirmed to FOX 26 News that an entire so-called "short track" class of firefighter cadets have completed their training, but are not being deployed to stations.The reason? Pena said it boils down to uncertainty over the City of Houston budget because of the additional cost of "pay parity," estimated at $100 million per year.
"They haven't been sworn," said Chief Pena. "They are still municipal employees and they haven't been brought in as classified employees because we are still hoping to reach a resolution on this Proposition B and contract with the (Firefighters) Association."
Pena conceded that it is awful that the unsworn graduates have been left in a state of limbo, but until city leaders have more clarity on how to absorb the higher payroll, he won’t put them in ambulance units and fire engines.
"If there needs to be a reduction in force, then it makes no sense to bring them in as classified when we are going to turn around and release them," said Pena.
Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Marty Lancton said the two dozen "short track" graduates are particularly valuable because they are men and women with firefighting and emergency medical certifications gained at other departments.
"Every day that you don't have personnel out there is one more day you are rolling the dice," said Lancton. He also noted that both a large and a small class of Houston police cadets have graduated since the November 2018 election and were immediately placed on the force protecting taxpayers. That has left firefighters convinced that they are being purposely shortchanged.
"If you have qualified men and women who are willing to risk their lives, that have come with experience from other departments and politics continue to get played, the citizens need to ask their elected leaders, 'Why?'" added Lancton.
As for the new negotiations between the City and its firefighters, no meeting has yet been scheduled.