AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly two dozen Austin Firefighters have received light suspensions over several months after Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr enacted a department policy that has zero tolerance for collisions. According to disciplinary memos, that could mean hitting another vehicle, tree limbs or a dumpster.
To show the kind of offenses being targeted, here are the latest three:
- Firefighter Ehren Iverson will be suspended for 4 hours on Nov. 26
Iverson hit a parked civilian vehicle, causing damage on June 8
- Fire Specialist James Taylor was suspended for 8 hours on Tuesday
An apparatus on the vehicle he was driving moved a dumpster and damaged it
- Lt. Arthur Vasquez was suspended for 4 hours on Monday
An apparatus struck a civilian vehicle, causing damage on June 8
Since Oct 10, notices have been released from the city’s HR Department in small groups. An example can be found here. A spokesperson tells KXAN the timing of the release of the notices is due to ‘a backlog.’
Chief Kerr explains her reasoning in the notices, writing preventable vehicle collisions can lead to longer emergency response times if a replacement engine has to be dispatched.
Austin Fire Department Policies and Procedures: B201: Safe Driving
III.A.1: AFD’s goal is “zero contact with other objects.” Any contact with another object that is deemed preventable may be grounds for disciplinary action.”
“Our job is to help on what may be the worst day of someone’s life. But we can’t get there to do so if we’re involved in a preventable collision. That means another unit has to respond, making our arrival time to the emergency even longer,” the chief said.
Austin’s Fire Union is furious, saying the chief’s notices are a betrayal that can more easily be solved with education and training. AFD said in late October that it is undertaking that retraining too, on top of the suspensions.
“This program by Chief Kerr demonstrates a disconnect from operational realities and is harming morale,” wrote President Bob Nicks to his membership Tuesday on the AFA’s website.
Austin police policy on damaging vehicles is more vague, merely requesting officers inspect a vehicle for damage before using it. The policy holds an APD employee liable only if their vehicle is damaged while pushing or pulling another vehicle.