“I think they are quality young men. We hired them.”
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, Aug. 25, 2016
When San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood addressed the media Thursday in response to the firing of six cadets of the 2016 Bravo class he stated he wasn’t “judging the persons.”
Perhaps he should have. They were:
- A new dad, busy with a 4-month-old, whose wife had just quit her job to stay at home
- The son of a San Antonio Firefighter and former college football player who spent his early career working for the Bexar County Detention Center and as a mental health assistant for SAISD
- A Sergeant 1st Class from upstate New York who had served 13 years with the Army National Guard and had heard the San Antonio Fire Department was "one of the best in the nation"
- A Wisconsin native from a firefighting family who couldn’t imagine becoming anything other than a firefighter, working in a big city like San Antonio
- A La Vernia husband who never gave up his dreams of becoming a firefighter after attending Texas A&M University in College Station
- A 28-year-old who still holds onto a photo of a firefighter’s helmet his grandfather gave him when he was a boy
The headlines are damning. Six cadets dismissed by fire chief for drinking on duty. Social media reverberates virulent and frank comments. "They don't deserve to wear the badge."
The San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 624 offers the following stories for you to be the judge of that. We intend that by reading their stories, you feel as torn as we did when we first heard them, and why so many are calling for justice.
C a d e t A
When 30-year-old Cadet A spoke with us, we learned he was from Upstate New York and had previously been a volunteer firefighter in Carlisle. "I'm from a small town," he said. "I like that small town feel in San Antonio. And there's no snow." Cadet A has served almost 13 years in the Army National Guard. In 2007, he deployed to Afghanistan. He's received prestigious awards like the Medals Army Commendation Medal, one for being the Infantry Instructor of the Year. He has received the Meritorious Service Medal for his service at the Army Headquarters at the Pentagon, as well as a Campaign Medal and a Combat Infantry Badge. Before being accepted into the 2016 Bravo class of the San Antonio Fire Academy, Cadet A traveled to San Antonio "Four or five times, even for a 15-minute walk-through. I'd be dropped from the process, if I didn't." He told us he wanted to come to the San Antonio Fire Department, because he had heard it was "one of the best in the nation."
Cadet A interviewed in Asheville, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and in Huntsville, Alabama. He estimates he spent nearly $9,000 traveling for interviews, spending a little over $2,000 out of pocket just for San Antonio.
But for Cadet A and the other five terminated candidates, it's not about the money.
C a d e t B
Cadet B told us when his family and friends heard that he and five other San Antonio Fire Academy cadets had been let go, they couldn't believe it. "You've spent your whole adulthood going for this," they told him. "We know you didn't do what they're saying happened," they said. It's true: Cadet B has tried "seven or eight times," he estimates, trying to get into the San Antonio Fire Academy, working at the Bexar County Detention Center and a mental health assistant for SAISD during that time. The 29-year-old and his wife, a school counselor, have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. The two just bought a house. On Friday, following San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood's news conference Thursday, Cadet B learned he had passed his national registry EMT test on the first try.
Cadet B attended college in Kansas to play football, but returned to pursue his father's career as a San Antonio Firefighter. He said his father has been very supportive during this time. "He's not the one to show affection or that kind of stuff. First, he was upset. He was trying to encourage me to stay strong. I didn't even have to tell them, but he knew this hit me really hard. The first thing I thought of was, 'How am I going to tell my dad that this just happened? My kids? My wife?'"
C a d e t C
Cadet C is also from San Antonio. His dad has had a long career in public service and it's inspired him to join the family tradition. "I've always cared about helping people." The 25-year-old's previous job, before taking on fatherhood (Did we mention he started at the San Antonio Fire Academy just weeks after his first son was born?), was working to connect people in critical need with community resources. When he graduated from college in Kentucky, he returned to San Antonio. "He spent four years trying to get into the academy. When he did, his wife quit her job and continued her graduate studies. "She stopped working to take care of our kid," he said. "That's the most frustrating part," he said. "It was rough. When we took his newborn photos, he had this little crocheted fire outfit."
He's frustrated mainly because he feels the truth isn't really out. "It's mostly hearsay, without any evidence."
C a d e t D
Cadet D was born and raised in Red Granite, Wisconsin. "My dad has been a firefighter for 35 years. My grandfather was a firefighter," the Eagle Scout told us. "Once I got involved in the department, I liked the camaraderie, helping the public with a group of guys. You can't really find that anywhere else." The now 26-year-old began taking classes to become a firefighter when he was just 17 years old. "I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps." He earned his Associate's Degree in Fire Science at 18 as a volunteer firefighter. He continued his education to receive a Bachelor's Degree in Fire and Emergency Response Management. He had put out at least 15 applications all over the country, but San Antonio was the top of his list because he had always wanted to be in a big city where the work, especially in the hot heat of South Texas, would be a challenge. "I wanted to join a modern, progressive fire department and I heard San Antonio was the place to be. I heard the fire department took care of their members."
Cadet D said when he found out he got the job, he packed "whatever I could fit in my car. I didn't even have a bed."
C a d e t E
Cadet E was surprised to learn during this ordeal it may have been a San Antonio Firefighter who turned them in. "I thought it was supposed to be a brotherhood," he said while reviewing the allegations. He was fired a week after his 28th birthday. Cadet E grew up in San Antonio said he had always wanted to become a firefighter. "I have a picture my grandfather gave me of a plastic fire hat," Cadet E said. "It's just always wanting to help people, run into burning buildings and stuff, always in the background."
He said he doesn't have any family that are firefighters, but that the idea of having a second family is something that drew him in. "You can't talk to everyone about certain things in this firefighting profession. It's a group that can relate to you better than anyone else can."
C a d e t F
As Cadet F and the other five candidates have consistently stated: They went out for a burger and a beer after being let out for the day by their instructor. It can't be overstated enough for Cadet F and the other five: The comrades weren't acting recklessly. They weren't doing anything wrong. "It sounds like a nightmare. This can't be real," he told us. Cadet F is 30 years old and grew up in La Vernia. He went to Texas A&M University in College Station and met his wife in Louisiana, although she turned out to be from Lockhart. They have a dog and were planning on starting a family, now that he's moved home and when he graduates from the San Antonio Fire Academy. He worked in project management for five years before finally getting accepted into the academy. "It was my childhood dream. I've got pictures of me when I was a little kid, in my uncle's hats, boots. I wanted to come back and serve my community."
When Cadet F was let go, the self-admitted "country boy" said, "If we knew it was wrong, we wouldn't have done it."
As an important message to not only the San Antonio community, but also the members of the SAPFFA Local 624, we know and fully recognize that these Cadets are at-will employees. We are arguing on their behalf as an issue of this being a wrong and unjust treatment. Simply said, this is a right versus wrong issue and nothing else.
"We invested in them, just like they invested in us, but the challenges are that they made some bad decisions."
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, Aug. 25, 2016
It wasn't easy for us to hear this at San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood's news conference Thursday. The finality of it feels forced and unfair. For six committed cadets who've spent decades pining for a career with the San Antonio Fire Department, is it right to clip their wings, when they were just about to soar?
And by the way, the photo below shows the exact items of clothing the men were wearing on Aug. 4, the day the men enjoyed a burger and a beer with their comrades after they were released from duty. Someone alleged they were, "Drinking in uniform while on duty."
Tell City Council to help them get their jobs back