Firefighters sue City over retaliation for Civil Service

The city is also accused of cancelling planned promotions of APFF members, among other agreements

  • Arlington firefighters watch intently as the City of Arlington management and labor leaders negotiate the implentation of civil service last September. (Photo: Texas State Association of Fire Fighters)
    Arlington firefighters watch intently as the City of Arlington management and labor leaders negotiate the implentation of civil service last September. (Photo: Texas State Association of Fire Fighters)
Ken Costlow

Four Arlington firefighters, in conjunction with the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters and the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, filed suit in Tarrant County District Court Tuesday against the City of Arlington and Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson, among others.

The lawsuit alleges that the city has retaliated against the firefighters in the months since the May 2017 civil service election -- which approved the regime for public servants endorsed by the Texas Legislature – by reducing fire station staffing to below national fire safety standards.

The city is also accused of cancelling planned promotional interviews, eliminating long-standing wage, benefits and working conditions, and unilaterally reassigning nearly one-third of the firefighters in the department without explanation.

The lawsuit was filed by firefighters Edward Montague, Matthew Throne, Adrian Rojas, Joseph Markham and the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters.

Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson is accused of compromising the safety of Arlington's firefighters and citizens with staff reductions at the city's fire stations. (Photo: Jason Waite / Arlington Voice)

In addition to the City of Arlington and Chief Crowson, Arlington Director of Human Resources and Civil Service Kari Jo Zika and three members of the Arlington Civil Service Commission – Richmond Stoglin, Charles Clawson and Pamela Roach – were also named as co-defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that immediately after the referendum Texas Local Government Code Chapter 143 was approved by Arlington voters, Chief Crowson unilaterally reduced the Arlington Fire Department’s minimum daily staffing from 84 personnel per shift to 75.

The reduction means the AFD no longer has adequate staffing on certain apparatus to turn out the minimum emergency response required by the National Fire Protection Association.

“The public safety of not only our firefighters, but the citizens of Arlington has been jeopardized with these actions,” said David Crow, president of the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters. “We have less firefighters on the streets than before the Civil Service vote was passed.”

The Texas Local Government Code Chapter 143 is intended to keep police and fire departments “free from political influence” in issues of hiring, promotional and disciplinary procedures. Prior to the vote, Arlington was the largest city in the state that had not adopted Chapter 143.

The lawsuit also accuses Chief Crowson of implementing “a hand-picked ‘stakeholder committee’ which he uses to bypass” the APFF and directly discuss labor issues with fire department employees.

After the city had established a “meet and confer” meeting with the APFF on Sept. 19-20, 2017, it offered to discuss reinstating “recently eliminated and/or reduced benefits” if the APFF would agree to significant limitations on the rights afforded to the firefighters by Chapter 143.

When the APFF declined, believing any such agreement would circumvent the will of the Arlington voters and taxpayers, Crowson subsequently cancelled all promotional interviews.

The City Council then eliminated the meet-and-confer rights afforded to the APFF effective Nov. 27, although the Police Department continues to have such meetings.

The lawsuit is seeking a restraining order from the court to prohibit the city defendants from conducting the promotional exam scheduled for Feb. 12, and from filling fire department vacancies utilizing any promotional eligibility list other than ones nullified last October.

“The Arlington Professional Fire Fighters have made every attempt to avoid this for nearly a year, but has been unsuccessful to date,” Crow said. “Our Civil Service rights under Chapter 143 have not caused this – the city’s actions, including staff reduction, have caused it.

“Despite these difficulties, Arlington firefighters are striving to provide the excellent service the citizens have come to respect.”

John Riddle, the president of the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters, said the City of Arlington’s reputation in the fire service is at risk.

“Arlington firefighters are fighting for what’s right – fire station staffing in compliance with national safety standards and fairness in hiring and promotional and disciplinary procedures,” Riddle said. “It’s clear throughout the state that the city is ignoring the will of the Arlington voters.”

City of Arlington Marketing Communications Manager Jay Warren said in a prepared statement that the action by the APFF was not unexpected, but the city would not be able to provide extended comment on the pending litigation.

"We feel it is important to note that the Arlington Professional Firefighters Association originally requested that Civil Service be put on the ballot for a public vote," Warren said "The proposition was passed in May 2017 and the City has endeavored over the last nine months to enact the Civil Service as prescribed by state law.

 "The City of Arlington wants to assure residents and visitors that our Fire Department is a leader statewide and nationally in public safety and medical response and that high-quality service continues today with the implementation of Civil Service. Staffing levels at all 17 fire stations across Arlington can periodically fluctuate based on a host of factors, but all are adequately staffed and equipped to handle the city’s emergency needs and ensure the safety of Arlington residents. "

This article has been update with new information.