Arguments that won confirmation for Pensacola Fire Chief David Allen

The Pensacola City Council on Monday confirmed Mayor Ashton Hayward’s appointment of David Allen as the city’s fire chief by a 5-3 vote. Council members Larry Johnson, Brian Spencer, Andy Terhaar, P.C. Wu and Jewel Cannada-Wynn voted for approval.

Mayor Ashton Hayward refused to let Allen answer questions during the meeting, but here are the arguments that won approval for his appointment:

Councilman Andy Terharr in support of his motion to approve Allen:

“I’ve spoken with, we’d like to confirm Interim Chief Allen I guess, for now. As President, over the years I have known, especially when I’m campaigning I spend a lot of time with him and talking to, trying to hear some the concerns of the firemen. I know he’s had their back for a long time.

“And before we get started I wanted to recognize all the firemen also in the audience and ask if you are a fireman and you’re here to support Chief Allen could you please stand up and be seen.

“Thank you. If you please try to support Chief Allen and also know that these firemen really respect him and they do a great job and I really believe he’s the right person for this job, so thank you.”

Councilman P.C. Wu, who seconded Terhaar’s motion:

“Thank you very much, Mr. President. When you don’t know what you’ve got there, you have to rely on people who do. And I’m probably the last person you would ever want to send into a fire because I would have no idea what to do when I got there. But I do consider opinions of people who I consider experts.

“Today I saw a letter of support from former Chief Russell Dean. I saw a letter of support from former Chief Frank Edwards. These are two people, former fire chiefs,that I would I consider experts in the field, and they give Chief Allen glowing recommendations. It even carries more weight to me since both of these gentlemen are retired.

“So when you have two people who have done the job, who aren’t under any political pressure, not saying anything except what they feel is the truth, well then it carries in my mind an awful lot of weight.

“And this next person, I’m probably going to get in trouble, is a person that I personally have a high degree of respect for, and that’s the pastor of First Baptist Church, Robert Barry Howard. And Robert Howard, I hope I can have your permission to use your name since you’re here. The fact that you’re here is important, speaks volumes to me. Any man of the cloth who would take time out from a busy schedule to come down to speak on behalf of a person tells me an awful lot about that person’s character and integrity. And you would not be seeing me in this room if you did not feel like he was a person who had both.

“So I apologize for not asking your permission to use your name when I talk to you, but that does it for me, Mr. President.”

Mayor Ashton Hayward:
“Council President and Councilmembers, I want to say thank you for calling this meeting tonight. Obviously we see many citizens of Pensacola in our great community coming out tonight after work, during their work hours, many work into their evening hours. But I would like to say again thank you.

“I would like if I can have your support tonight confirming Chief Allen as our Fire Chief.

“I think many of you have worked with David over the years. I know Councilman Wu and Councilwoman Myers probably longer than I have, and the relationship he has most importantly with the citizens of Pensacola serving our great community the number of years that David has and he’s the right man for the job. I know he’ll do an incredible job for our community and leadership, and being proactive as he always has and continue to bring that leadership into the community and I hope that you can confirm.”

Attorney Thurston A. “T.A.” Shell:
“I served the city attorney 60 years ago. We had four lawyers in my law firm. We made $20,000 a year, and we did not spend one cent for outside counseling.

“Now I’ve known David Allen for 30 or 40 years. He is a family man. He goes out and helps people who need help. I’m proud that he’s [inaudible 00:04:55] and I believe I’ve seen him on other places when my neighbor had to have a fireman to help. I think that you can’t find a finer man. You can’t find a better family man. You can’t find a better professional.

“I’m proud of the city fire department. I’m proud of the fact that every single homeowner in Pensacola benefits every year by the protection and also by the fact that their insurance rates are down because we have a professional well run and well attended fire department. If you want a good man, a paragon of integrity, and a man who does what he’s going to do and say what he’s going to say, pick David Allen. Thank you for considering me. God bless.”

Steven Bridwell:
“I’d like to speak for David Allen. I’m a retired fire captain, recently retired. And, the problems, I’m not going to [inaudible 00:06:47] about David. We all have flaws. He’s just a man.

But can he lead this department right now? Yes.

“He’s in the job, a couple years will go by, you’ll be able to pick from inside the bunk [inaudible 00:07:00] What’s wrong with the department? You all want to do a national search for a chief? What’s wrong with the people standing behind you? y’all wanting to do a national search for a chief? What’s wrong with the people standing behind you? Those are the people that deserve that job. That man will take this job, he’ll leave it alone and he’ll be gone in a couple years and you’ll be able to pick and you’ll understand who these people are because they’re going to be out there saying “Yeah I’m looking for that job and I would like to have it” and you’ll be able to see it.

“Fire departments are political and that’s what this is about, but you know, Mr. Bare, you were there years ago, you’ve been on the council years. Station 3 has been rotting down for years, so that’s no surprise.

“There’s no surprise when that interim chief that just left fired her back chiefs and appointed who you wanted. There was no dissent here.

“The voters asked for a strong mayor and that’s who you got. [inaudible 00:07:56]. He’s trying to do something and this department needs a chief, not an interim chief. They need a chief. Now you can appoint one tonight and in a couple years you can have a pick of the anyone behind you who need that job. You don’t need a national search. There’s good people right here. I don’t know why you can’t see it. Thank you.”

Nate Edler
“Good evening Mr. Mayor, Mr. Olsen, Council President Mayor, and fellow council members. I will keep this short and sweet. I am the Union President for the local 707, Pensacola Professional Firefighters.

“The only thing I wish to address tonight is President Mayor’s opinions being pressed onto our personnel and our current interim fire chief. We are proud of our city. We support our current interim fire chief.

“We are proud of our department and none of us appreciate the disrespect given to us tonight to all of our department in front of all who is here in attendance. It is time to make this department great again. Like I said, we are proud of our city; we are proud of our department.

“I think the fellow members who are here tonight speak for themselves that they want this department to move forward and be great again. That’s all I wish to say.”

Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Winn:
“Yes. I tell you, the last six months has been very difficult one. It’s been a very difficult one for me, especially the time when the investigation of the fire chief and deputy chief. I would like to reach out and to the firefighters to ask how they felt and what their concerns are.

“And you can read a multitude of reports. You can read all of that and it is convoluted. It’s either racism that’s going on in the fire department. There’s leadership war in the fire department. And I’m like Councilmember Myers, you just don’t know who to believe. Will that change after today if the interim fire chief is confirmed or not confirmed?

“I see you could come up with all the reports you want. Everyone will have a side. Everyone will have a belief. So I spoke to the president of the firefighters and talked to that person, that individual, and I asked, “What is the morale of the firefighters? Are they unhappy? Are there things not being addressed?”

“The individual was positive. He said things have changed under the leadership of the interim fire chief, that the individuals feel they are going to be treated fairly, that favoritism is not in play, and that they have somebody that they could deal with. That’s what was said.

“I also wanted to hear from the black firefighters. Is it racism? Has there been a constant sense that the issue always brought up was the issue of the racial slurs and the profanities in I guess their own [inaudible 00:12:20]. Has there been this issue and do you see this fire chief has perpetuated racial discontent? The answer that I got was that it is not a race issue. It is an issue of treating each firefighter with respect and based on their abilities and moving the department forward.

“It has nothing to do with this undercurrent of “We have a department that is racial and divided by race and so therefore Chief Allen will perpetuate that” because that’s very important to me because I would not have confirmed any position that I feel would not support all employees and there was a bid for discrimination in their regards.

“Also a concern for me was, often brought up, is Officer Bartholomew in his death. So oh yes I have read the papers. And I’ve also seen some of the evaluations and some of the things that were taken out. I would like to have seen some of that. But there was a series of incidents that played with the death of that great firefighter. There was a series of mishaps. And so we would want to blame the responsibility of their death on one person. You have to look at the whole group, the whole entire group that from the time the dispatcher got called to the time the ending of the entire thing.Because the owner of that house was not in that house when those firefighters went in there.

“So there was breakdown all along. Because the firefighters need support, I will support his confirmation as well.”

Councilman Andy Terhaar:
“First off, we’re going to [inaudible 00:14:42] We are going to try and hire somebody who’s [inaudible “00:14:50]. So that issue I understand that people make mistakes, I’ve made lots of mistakes and people have call me before and I say “Hey, I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I’ll try to make it up to you.” And you know, that’s what you do. You move on because you look for the right person. It’s not necessarily that they’ve made mistakes.

“The biggest thing I can see in this community is the support of the people that this new chief, Chief Allen, is going to be supervising. And that is the most important thing to a chief, is that the firemen underneath him respect him, and that they appreciate what he does and that they want him as their chief.

“We could probably go out and find a national search and get somebody out here from California to come. But I guarantee you he won’t gain the respect that Chief Allen has with all these people in this room.

“And that respect is just as important as qualifications and all the issues that people brought up tonight which frankly, until you stand in a burning building and try to make it safely, I don’t know what that’s like. I’ve never been in a burning building before. I can’t look back on that and go, “I would’ve done it better.”

“When you have this many people in a room who support somebody who’s going to be their boss, to me that is the most important thing you need to look at. I appreciate all of you coming out and showing support for your new chief. Thank you.”

Councilman Wu:
“[Inaudible 00:16:24] by two former chiefs and minister and one group that I left out is the group that are standing in the back. And I have to tell you, what convinced me when I walked in the door is the fact that you’ve got black firefighters and white firefighters in the room.

“And later with all these remarks being made, there’s many black firefighters and white firefighters I know and they would be nothing to make those folks come here and to even want to be in this room. So I commend you for being here because it really really sends an awful powerful message.

“If I could just deviate for just one second, the reason that I’ve always been so close to firefighters and police is when my father opened a restaurant in 1930, and 13 year old me couldn’t speak English, the firehouse was 2 blocks from the restaurant and the police department was 3. And the firefighters and police taught my father how to hunt, and how to love fishing. And ever since that day I’ve had a close bond with both groups.

“If I did not think Chief Allen would do an exceptional job, you could put a gun to my head and I would not vote for him. But when you have people at the very top speaking for him and rank in file, in my mind it’s awfully hard to go against him. Thank you Mr. President.”

Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn
“Our best source of information is from the family and from the family of firefighters, just like Dr. Wu said, when I had black firefighters and white firefighters say yes, they’re willing to move forward with this information, that I will support. Because all the way up until I had talked to those individuals, I was not confirming. I just did not have enough because the basis of the information that I had was just conflicted. But because they have stated they feel the difference already in the leadership this person is providing to them and look forward to that future leadership, that’s why I am supporting the confirmation.”

After these remarks, the Pensacola City Council voted to approve Mayor Hayward’s appointment of David Allen as the city’s next fire chief.