Firefighters ‘pained’ by chief’s leadership

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Tensions in Littleton Fire Rescue, which serves Highlands Ranch, have come to a head, with the Littleton Firefighters Association passing a vote of no confidence in Chief John Mullin.

“Once a proud and well-regarded emergency services provider, we have watched with dismay and disappointment as Littleton has been passed up by other metro fire departments,” they write in an April 16 letter to City Manager Michael Penny. “It pains us to see how far we have fallen under the leadership of John Mullin.”

In particular, the association wants a strategic plan for the department.

“When asked over the years to articulate a strategic plan, we have always been met with silence, puzzled looks or at best a response of ‘status quo,’” they write.

Penny says Mullin has developed an action plan to immediately improve communications with his employees regarding concerns and decision-making.

“Littleton Fire Rescue is a proud and well-regarded fire service agency with dedicated and talented employees,” said Penny. “I appreciate our association members sharing their concerns with me regarding communication and strategic planning.”

The department has had its share of controversy in recent years. Response times and insurance rates are poor in Trailmark, though an intergovernmental agreement was recently reached with West Metro Fire for coverage there. There’s also been conflict between LFR and its partners — Highlands Ranch Metro District and Littleton Fire Protection District — that led some to wonder if the partnership would be renewed in 2012.

A recent study recommends an eventual merger with Englewood’s department, but no real steps have been taken toward that end. That was the third independent study conducted on LFR since 2008, when the city partnered with LFPD and HRMD to hire Organizational Effectiveness Consulting. That first study contained 108 recommendations, very few of which were ever implemented due to budget constraints. In 2011, the two partners paid for their own study but have refused to release it, saying it was never completed.

“Administrations across the state have endured difficult political and economic environments over the past several years, but they have been thoughtful and strategic in their response and managed to maintain in spite of difficult circumstances,” write the association members. “We continue to fall further and further behind, as ESCI’s (Emergency Services Consulting International) recent study points out and previous studies have demonstrated.”

In a statement, Mullin said he’ll present a budget request to develop a strategic plan in 2014, as well as a “Standard of Coverage Plan” needed to move toward accreditation.

“I am looking forward to addressing the points expressed by members of the association,” he said. “I am confident that, with the command staff, we will be able to create and implement a plan that resolves these issues and continues to build upon the outstanding reputation of Littleton Fire Rescue.”

But the association’s membership isn’t so sure.

“The fact that he has failed to deliver a strategic plan might be palatable if he were competent at orchestrating his routine responsibilities and the predictable minutia that is part and parcel to running a modern fire department,” they write. “Unfortunately, we can’t even rely on this.”

They say policy is implemented and withdrawn with little or no thought behind it, training is lacking and disorganized and capital resource management is dismal.

“Our emergency operations have become disjointed, dysfunctional, and even unsafe at times,” they write. “In short our customers deserve better and so do we. None of the issues mentioned in the previous paragraph are dependent upon increased funding of our fire department, an important topic for another day. The issues of which we write are budget neutral and can be dealt with immediately. We wish to be clear. We have no confidence that this administration possesses either the skill set or ability to meet LFR’s immediate or long-term challenges.”