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Firefighters’ international union censures Wichita fire chief

The international union for firefighters has adopted a resolution to censure Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell.

That’s according to a news release e-mailed to the Eagle on Saturday by Matthew Jackson, president of a local firefighters union in Junction City and secretary of the Kansas State Council of Fire Fighters.

Delegates at the International Association of Fire Fighters’ Convention in Philadelphia in late July unanimously adopted a censure resolution against Blackwell for his actions against Wichita Fire Fighters Local 135. The censure was based on an IAFF resolution that said, among other things, that Blackwell risked public and firefighter safety by reducing front-line staffing, repeatedly violated the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city and gave double-digit raises to department managers.

“The union will not tolerate injustice at the hands of any mayor or fire chief, and the 300,000 men and women of this great union are proud to offer this censure on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Wichita,” said IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger, in the release.

Blackwell said Saturday that he was unhappy about the resolution but said it would not take his focus off the department’s mission.

“The censure resolution is disappointing and unfortunate,” Blackwell said. “My management team and I work on a daily basis with some of the best firefighters anywhere, and we’ll continue to provide the high level of service our community deserves and has come to expect.”

The IAFF censure follows calls by members of Local 135 in April for Blackwell’s resignation and the resignation of Deputy Chief Ron Aaron and Division Chief Billy Wenzel over the raises and cutbacks in service.

Local 135 members in April also approved a vote of no confidence in Blackwell.

Matt Schulte, Local 135 president, told The Eagle at the time that the union vote “has no teeth,” but “it needed to be said.”

Delegates at the Philadelphia convention also adopted resolutions censuring Mayor Arthur Ward of Bristol, Conn., and Fire Chief Bruce Burrell of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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