ORLANDO, Fla. — Several Orlando Fire Department District Chiefs say they are being retaliated against for suing the City of Orlando. Channel 9 reported in August when the group filed a lawsuit over overtime pay.
Now, two months later, nearly all current district chiefs listed in the suit were transferred to new shifts and stations.
9 Investigates’ Ashlyn Webb talked to one of the district chiefs who said she’s never seen this happen before.
The district fire chiefs did not want to speak to me in August when this suit was filed because they didn’t want this to be in the public eye, and they feared retaliation from Fire Department Administration if they did speak.
Now, they say they feel like they have been retaliated against by the administration, and they want Orlando residents to know about it.
“It’s disheartening,” said Lori McDonald, one of a two dozen current and former Orlando’s District Fire Chiefs that filed suit in August against the City for unpaid compensation. The group filed in hopes of removing a pay exemption-- allowing chiefs to earn time and a half when they’re working additional shifts.
“When we worked extra shifts in our own position, we weren’t paid overtime. We were paid straight pay, as opposed to every other firefighter in the department. When they work an extra shift, they’re paid at an overtime rate,” McDonald said.
For years, the union tried to negotiate with the city on pay—but got nowhere—so the group filed suit.
Almost two months later, those current district fire chiefs received an email from Deputy Fire Chief Craig Hulette.
All current chiefs listed in the suit, except 1 of them, would be transferred-- along with 18 other district and assistant fire chiefs.
McDonald says never in her 25 years with the department did she see this large transfer in district chiefs.
“My reaction was it felt like retaliation, district transfers are not something that occur normally, especially like a large group of transfers. Normally, they only happen when there is a promotion, or somebody’s moving from a day position to a chief’s position,” McDonald said.
The City says these “planned transfers” allow District Chiefs to gain experience in all areas of fire service—and that the transfers “enhance customer service” and “strengthen the department”.
However, the International Association of Firefighters said in a statement to Eyewitness News, “There does not appear to be any operational need for these transfers and the timing of these transfers will prevent many District Chiefs from using their planned time off during the holidays in November and December.”
McDonald says this not only shakes up chiefs’ schedules. Many are now assigned to different areas of town.
“You learn buildings, you learned territories, you learn water supplies, you learn all these different things that help you be a better commander,” McDonald said. “This is literally just that started back from square one.”
The City called the Union’s and District Chief’s allegations “untrue,” adding that more than the plaintiffs were transferred. McDonald told Eyewitness News the others transferred were collateral damage.
City of Orlando Statement:
Orlando Fire management is committed to developing all District Chiefs in order to qualify for higher command, and to do so, the department allows for District Chiefs to gain experience in all areas of the fire service. These planned transfers were made to meet this objective and will allow OFD to continue its push to enhance customer service, promote personal development, ensure succession planning and strengthen the department.
“There does not appear to be any operational need for these transfers. In addition, the timing of these transfers is especially unusual given that it will prevent many of the District Chiefs from utilizing their planned time off during the upcoming holidays in November and December. Finally, by implementing these transfers without input from the District Chiefs and the Orlando community, there are concerns that these transfers were retaliatory and only implemented because of the District Chiefs’ lawsuit. The IAFF is exploring all avenues of relief for its members and looks forward to hearing from the City of Orlando on this potential legal issue.”
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