Fire chief responds to union’s no-confidence vote

  • Written by Don Mann
Photo by Don Mann Woodinville Fire & Rescue Chief I. David Daniels listens as the WFR union president delivers a no-confidence vote on his behalf at the commissioners’ meeting last Monday.
"First of all it was an interesting circumstance to express a lack of confidence when I’m not sure they ever had confidence in me to begin with," embattled Woodinville Fire & Rescue Chief I. David Daniels said when asked his response to the no-confidence vote handed down by Local 2950 at the WFR commissioners’ meeting last Monday.

"But it’s a free country and they have the right to express themselves."

The resolution from the Woodinville firefighters’ union was 59-0, with four abstentions and was delivered by union head Greg Ahearn in front of an overflow crowd of members and supporters, who called the measure "an alternative method to bring forth serious concerns of public safety and mismanagement to the public."

Ahearn cited a litany of grievances including: In Daniels’ 18 months at the helm, the fire district has lost its international accreditation through the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI); has abandoned its responsibility to adequately protect former Kingsgate station 34’s response area; has eliminated its public educator position and dramatically reduced fire prevention; has created new and costly administrative positions while firefighter positions have been eliminated; has withdrawn from the Labor Management Initiative by canceling meetings and has jeopardized the careers of firefighters during the Kirkland annexation.

"Never before in the history of this fire district has there been a vote of no-confidence in a fire chief," Ahearn added. "This is an unprecedented action and a somber occasion."

At least a half dozen other regional union presidents followed Ahearn to the lectern to voice their support during public comment.

It’s not the first time Daniels has been called on the carpet by Local 2950, having been censured by the International Association of Fire Fighters at their behest nearly a year ago for many of the same perceived transgressions.

"The reality is that the union does not run the district," Daniels said in response the morning after the vote was made public. "The board of directors runs the district and that’s who I take my direction from. The union is not calling the shots and that’s that. The board is in charge and I try to follow their direction to the letter. Until the board tells me they have an issue with my performance I’ll keep going in the direction I feel they want me to."

He added that policy changes made on his watch were done because there were a host of old district problems that needed to be fixed.

"All the things they talk about you’d think I came in here and started firing people," he said, "but not a single person in this district lost their job. Yes, we lost the Kingsgate station but that was because Kirkland annexed the area and that was in the works even before I got here. He (Ahearn) says I cut off communication but he was the one to say in public meetings that it wasn’t working. So if it wasn’t working, why continue to do it? That doesn’t make sense to me."

It must be uncomfortable to go to work each day in such an environment, it was suggested.

"Hey, it’s part of the job," he said. "I was hired to do a job and it’s just business. I’ve never made this a personal thing toward the union or anyone. It’s just unfortunate that they’ve made this very personal."

Did he expect any of this when he came aboard 18 months ago?

"No," he flatly said. "I didn’t think it would be this challenging or this personal. I had no idea of the depth of the resentment."

He added "A lot of things were going wrong when I got here. It was a mess, and I don’t think the general public really understands that.

"But I’ll say this: There are fire districts all over the country going through similar circumstances, where they have to reevaluate the way they do business. It’s happening everywhere; it really is. This is not unique to Woodinville."

Following the meeting Ahearn was asked what specific outcome he hoped for.

"The local’s hope is that the district consider finding a new chief," he said. "We have decided that we’re unable to work with the (current) chief. We feel that we’ve given it our best efforts."

WFR board chair Tim Osgood was asked if the commissioners had lost confidence in Daniels.

"No, we have not," he said directly. "A lot of the things he’s done is why we hired him."

He said he was still optimistic that things could be turned around, but offered a caveat:

"We obviously need to look toward the welfare of the department and after last night we’re in a reflective mood. We need to figure out what’s going to work for the whole organization."

Osgood, a 14-year WFR commissioner, a Northshore firefighter himself and a member of Local 2459 — whose president was in attendance and among the supporters of the resolution — was asked how the board will respond, if at all.

"We haven’t figured that out yet," he said. "We’re still down one board member," a reference to the vacancy created by Randy Ransom’s recent retirement for health reasons, and said the board would prefer a full contingent before making a decision, if any. "But I’ll say this: over the last two or three months we’ve stepped up our efforts to involve the union and we expect that to continue."

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