Letter Calls For Fire Union President Chris Steele To Step Down

Sep 23, 2014

A strongly-worded letter sent to all firefighters in San Antonio calling for fire union president Chris Steele to step down may signal mounting frustration within the ranks of the San Antonio Fire Department. 

The letter was sent to fire stations across the city nearly two weeks ago. But in an apparent attempt to let San Antonio residents know about the internal feelings toward Steele and his management of issues like public safety health benefits, which are currently being negotiated, the unsigned letter was sent to media outlets this week.

The letter's first point expresses dissatisfaction with a news release sent by Steele a few weeks ago. In that release, he criticized Fire Chief Charles Hood for a pilot program set to begin October 1 that would make medics available in a community-based healthcare system. The goal is to care for about 250 repeat 911 callers who would normally tie up emergency personnel from responding to other emergencies.

The headline of that release read, "Charles Hood Steps Down as Fire Chief and Goes to Work for the Hospitals."

"Who authorized you to say those things and misrepresent the attitudes about this program to the media?" the unknown author writes.

The writer goes on to outline reasons that Steele should step down.

"Your recent theatrics regarding the proposed streetcar system... and your attacks on city and fire dept. (sic) management has blinded you to the evolving world we live in and the opportunities we are missing in helping shape our own future."

The writer highlights the fact that Steele hasn't come to the negotiating table with the city to hash out SAFD healthcare plans. The police union is currently trying to come to a resolution.

"Chris, you have lost all credibility with our elected officials and now with this latest stunt you have alienated the media in a way that has never been done before and will hurt us for a long time to come," the author writes. "You are an embarrassment to this great organization and it is time for you to resign your position, now."

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana said he wasn't aware of angst within the department. Speaking of the letter to TPR, he said he previously believed firefighters felt the way Steele said they did. The letter, however, explained that isn't the case and that Steele often presents his own point of view rather than how firefighters feel.

In a statement to TPR responding to the letter, the fire department's communication office said the department is aware of the letter but won't discuss matters of the union and its members. But it continued to back the point of the community-based healthcare pilot program. The department stands behind the pilot program, the statement said. "[It's] one of the most innovative evolutions in the delivery of community based healthcare...to reduce workload on our fire and EMS personnel, enhance unit availability, and provide better outcomes for our target population of high volume users of the 911 system."

Steele has not returned phone calls made from TPR to respond to the letter and its accusations.