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Phil Matier: San Francisco Firefighters Want Chief Joanne Hayes-White Replaced

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Organizations representing rank-and-file firefighters in San Francisco are calling on the Mayor Ed Lee to replace Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White and get some new ideas in the department to deal with a crisis in public safety.

On Tuesday, Andrew Ross and I reported in our column that a coalition of rank and file organizations has sent a letter to Lee citing a "grave crisis in direction and leadership in the department."

Sources told me that the situation in the department reached a boiling point over the Labor Day weekend when the ongoing shortage of city ambulances had some firefighter units in the field waiting for more than an hour for an ambulance to transport their patients to hospitals.

They even had to resort to calling private ambulance operators to take up the slack.


Phil Matier: Phil Matier: San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White To Be Replaced?

But while the ambulance shortage has been a problem for some time, it has escalated in the past year becoming the focus of several city and media reports. Firefighters say it's just one problem that represents many that exist within the department where the infrastructure has started to crumble under the pressures of less money and more people in the city. They say it's time for new leadership.

Supervisor London Breed, a former member of the Fire Commission who has recently held hearings on the ambulance issue, already has announced that she has lost confidence in the department's leadership — but stopped short of calling for the chief's ouster.

Some of Hayes-White's detractors say that she is too much of a team player with Lee and has been all-too willing to go along with recent budget cuts.

The other problem is that even when they have money, there are organizational issues within the department that aren't allowing it to be spent.

It was a great embarrassment when they went to the Board of Supervisors asking for millions of dollars for new ambulances only to be reminded that they had already received the money but hadn't spent it.

They also missed a deadline on grant for a fire boat.

But this move by firefighters is unprecedented as the San Francisco firefighters' union—often perceived to be a white-guy unit which wouldn't be happy with a female chief, even though she's for several years—has been joined groups representing minority firefighters calling for Hayes-White' ouster.

This is a big wake-up call to the chief and the mayor and it will be interesting to see how they react. So far, the mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Lee has "confidence in the chief."

There will likely be a lot of renewed attention in the upcoming months to see if changes will be made within the department—or if there will be a change made at the top.

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