Iowa IAFF Local Sues To Block Police Officers Being Promoted To Fire Officers

Cedar Falls Firefighters, International Association of Firefighters Local 1366, filed suit last week in Black Hawk County District Court to block the city’s attempt to promote 9 police officers into newly created positions of authority within the fire department.

According to the complaint, the city plans to turn 7 police officers into “Public Safety Supervisor – Lieutenants” and 2 into “Public Safety Supervisor – Captains”. The police officers have had minimal exposure to firefighting, yet they will all outrank all of the firefighters and the PSS Captains will even outrank fire captains.

The suit claims the promotion of the nine officers violates Iowa Code § 400.17 that prohibits fire departments from employing “a person … in any capacity … if the person is unable to meet reasonable physical condition training requirements and reasonable level of experience requirements necessary for the performance of the position…”.

As explained in the complaint:

  • On June 3, 2019, the City Council of the City of Cedar Falls voted to approve nine promotions in the Cedar Falls Fire Department. These promotions are set to be implemented on June 29, 2019.
  • The promotions include seven new Public Safety Supervisor – Lieutenants (“PSS – Lieutenant”) positions and also two new Public Safety Supervisor – Captains (“PSS Captain”) positions.
  • All of the personnel promoted were Public Safety Officers who were, or are currently, Cedar Falls Police Department employees.
  • All of the professional Fire Department employees who applied for the PSS – Lieutenant and PSS – Captain positions were eliminated immediately after submitting their applications, and none were allowed to proceed any further through the promotional process.
  • The current rank structure in the Fire Department, in ascending order of authority, is: Fire Fighter, Fire Captain, Battalion Chief, Fire Chief.
  • The City intends to insert PSS- Lieutenant positions into the Fire Department hierarchy between the existing ranks of Fire Captain and Battalion Chiefs.
  • The City intends to insert the PSS – Captain positions into the Fire Department hierarchy between the existing ranks of Battalion Chief and Fire Chief.
  • Therefore, the PSS – Captains will be the second-highest ranking officials in the Fire Department.
  • The Cedar Falls Fire Department is currently staffed by 25 platoon personnel, who work 24-hour shifts. These include nine professional Fire Fighters, four Fire Captains, three Battalion Chiefs, a Fire Chief, and eight Public Safety Officers who are designated as Fire Fighters. As detailed infra, the City intends to promote three of the PSOs currently in the Fire Department, and six PSOs who have not yet worked a single day in the Fire Department in any full-time capacity.
  • The new PSS – Captains will be higher in the chain of command than all but one of the existing Fire Department personnel—the Fire Chief.
  • The new PSS – Lieutenants will be higher in the chain of command than 18 of the existing Fire Department personnel.
  • PSS – Captains are required to have less specific firefighting experience and are required to hold fewer certifications than the Battalion Chiefs whom they oversee in the Fire Department.
  • Fire Captains and Battalion Chiefs are responsible for ensuring the safety of the platoon personnel whom they oversee as well as the safety of members of the public.
  • Possessing the requisite level of training and experience is critical to the ability of the Fire Captains and Battalion Chiefs to perform these duties.
  • Through the planned implementation of the PSS Lieutenant and PSS Captain positions in the Fire Department, the City of Cedar Falls is placing the responsibility for ensuring the safety of members of Local 1366, as well as the safety of members of the public, at the scenes of emergencies in the hands of personnel with less than eight months’ of full-time experience in the Cedar Falls Fire Department (and, in the case, of six PSOs—one PSS – Captain and five PSS – Lieutenants—no full-time experience in the Cedar Falls Fire Department at all).
  • PSOs transferred to the Fire Department are not required to complete the Candidate Physical Agility Test.
  • The PSOs that the City intends to promote were not required to pass any written or practical Firefighting exam or any Firefighting agility test.
  • Despite the operational nature of the PSS – Lieutenant and PSS – Captain positions, the Department does not require these personnel to meet the same physical fitness requirements as the rest of the operational personnel in the Department.
  • Putting employees with extremely limited or no practical experience in the fire service in charge at the scene of emergencies poses a direct threat to the safety of Local 1366’s members as well as to the safety of the citizens of the City of Cedar Falls.
  • The City’s planned implementation of these nine promotions, constitutes a direct threat to the safety of Local 1366’s members as well as to the safety of the citizens of the City of Cedar Falls.
  • Iowa Code § 400.17 prohibits cities in Iowa from employing employees in fire departments if they are unable to meet reasonable physical condition training requirements and reasonable level of experience requirements necessary for performance of the position.
  • It is manifestly in the public interest that immediate injunctive relief be entered to prevent the unlawful practices described herein and to minimize the immediate substantial, and irreparable harm that Local 1366’s members will incur if the defendant implements the nine promotions discussed herein on June 29, 2019.

Local 1366 is seeking an injunction to block the promotions as well as a declaratory judgment affirming that the promotions are invalid.

Here is a copy of the lawsuit:

More on the story including news video coverage.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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