Walter J. Dix
12th District Vice President
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Welcome to the 55th Biennial Virtual Convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The 12th District proudly represents the IAFF members across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands.
In accordance with the provisions of Article VI, Section 7, of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Constitution and By-Laws, I respectfully submit this report of my activity as the 12th District Vice President to General President Harold Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Edward Kelly, the IAFF Executive Board and all officers and delegates in attendance at the 55th IAFF Biennial Convention. This report contains a summary of my activities from August 2018 through November 2021. I have attended all Executive Board meetings except one, during which I had a death in my immediate family attending to memorial services. I have diligently carried out all assignments given me by General President Schaitberger and humbly represent the members of our great District.
Let me start my report by personally thanking General President Schaitberger for his long-standing service to the IAFF and the entire labor movement. There is no doubt that General President Schaitberger has continually raised the bar on our ability to provide exemplary service to the membership. The political strength and recognition he’s brought to our Union is now unrivaled and unmatched by any other labor union with the election of a pro-fire fighter, pro-union endorsed candidate in the White House. Throughout this pandemic, labor unions are shrinking, while the IAFF continues to grow. We wish him well in retirement!
I would also like to wish my colleague and good friend 9th District Vice President Ray Rahne a happy and healthy retirement. Ray has been a strong leader and friend. He was a big help to our Florida affiliates in the aftermath of the Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. We wish him well in retirement!
2020 has been an unprecedented year in a host of ways for our members; the pandemic response, our first ever online virtual convention and a presidential election like no other, just to name a few. Our members faced an unprecedented hurricane season, massive wildland fires and horrific acts of gun violence. Yet despite all these challenging moments, our affiliates have stood strong, responded with the utmost courage, compassion, and professionalism, proving time and time again the invaluable service, our members perform for their communities each and every day.
Throughout this pandemic our General President’s Office, General Secretary Treasurer’s Office, all District Vice Presidents and IAFF staff have provided exemplary service during a time of true uncertainty. They are a true reflection of why our Union continues to flourish. Please take the time to say thank you to our officers and staff for their excellent service.
As of the writing of this report, our members are still responding 24/7 to the COVID-19 outbreak as COVID positivity rates are on the rise. I continue to pray for all our members health and safety in the wake of this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Working together, to get through these difficult times, we are now better prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead. Despite all these challenging moments, our affiliates have stood strong, responded with the utmost courage, compassion and professionalism, proving time and time again the invaluable service, our members perform for their communities each and every day.
With a very busy 2 ½ years in the 12th District, since our last convention in Seattle in August 2018, our District activities continue to increase with multiple disaster responses, first contracts, arbitration assistance, organizing and member legal representations. One thing for sure that truly inspires me is the opportunity to meet with new local affiliate leaders throughout the District. These affiliate leaders give me the energy and drive to keep going with their own new enthusiasm and desire to learn about all the services and support this great Union provides to our members.
The General President has assigned me to various committees of the IAFF, and I continue to serve in those capacities on a year-round basis and learn more about the services our International provides with each meeting; Budget and Finance, Education and Training, Emergency Medical Services, Employee Benefits and Human Resources, Grants Administration and Hazardous Materials Training, Human Relations, Occupational Health Safety & Behavioral Wellness, Organizing and Field Services, Policy and Operational Procedures, Technical Assistance, and Ethical Practices Committee (assigned by the Senior DVP).
As your District Vice President, I attended multiple Line of Duty Death funerals throughout the District. The 2020 IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial was conducted virtually this past year due to COVID-19 outbreaks. We plan to honor all the 2020 LODDs and their families at the 2021 memorial service.
As we face many challenges in our profession, so too is the challenge of providing behavioral health support for our members. We are losing too many of our members to suicide. In an effort to respond to the crisis, we have continued to provide top-notch behavioral health assistance to several of our IAFF Affiliates and their membership. We partnered with the Florida Professional Firefighters and provided multiple Peer Support training classes throughout the state of Florida. When in-person peer support was not possible due to COVID situations, we made a pivot and started to provide virtual secure online behavioral health support. Our mission, taking care of the members in their most urgent time of need, has never wavered.
We have completed two regional Secretary/Treasurer training programs and two District Partnership in Education Programs. These classes have been widely successful in training the members on the critical needs of running your local union. Special thanks to DFSRs Fatjo, Wyse and Duncan for all their hard work and dedication to making these educational programs an enormous success. As of the printing of this report, the 12th District is planning to deliver another Secretary/Treasurer and a New Officer Orientation training to our affiliate leaders. We will continue to deliver IAFF training to all areas of the 12th District through online training, in-person regional classes and PEP events.
With the support of General President Schaitberger, General Secretary Treasurer Kelly and our IAFF staff, we expanded our 12th District organizing initiatives from South Carolina into North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and the Caribbean Islands. The IAFF conducted specialized training and support for the organizing initiatives. Our work continues to show progress with steady growth in a number of already established locals, newly organized locals and re-affiliated locals. While the pandemic has not slowed our organizing initiative, we are now able to provide much requested electronic platform meetings to begin the organizing process. The exceptional efforts of our State Officers, District Field Service Representatives, Service Representatives, IAFF staff and IAFF instructors does not go unrecognized and has allowed us to grow the program.
I am extremely proud of our advances in organizing. Since 2017 when we started this organizing initiative, we’ve made real progress, adding over 6,276 new IAFF members to the 12th District. Continuance of this project will only increase our footprint in the 12th District and assist state and local Affiliates in growing their political clout with our union fire fighter brand. As we grow together, we are stronger together!
Congratulations to President Ryan Osborne, Secretary Treasurer Emily Thompson and the entire PFFG team on their leadership and enthusiasm within Georgia to improve our members rights and benefits. As I write to you, the PFFG has reorganized and is planning their annual Ed Bayley Professional Firefighters of Georgia Convention and Educational Summit. This plans to be an exciting time for the Professional Firefighters of Georgia as they prepare their agenda to expand and improve legislation representing our fire fighters.
Title 25: The Firefighter’s Mediation Act [provides collective bargaining rights to fire fighters in any paid fire department of any municipality of this state having a population of 20,000 or more according to the United States decennial census of 1980 or any future such census who are employed for and subject to fire-fighting duties…].
The new city of South Fulton, located just outside of the Atlanta metro area, has been able to enact title 25. President Andrea Hall, with the assistance of our IAFF political team, was able to elect a pro-fire fighter city council who adopted a collective bargaining ordinance in accordance with title 25. We look forward to signing our first collective bargaining agreement in South Fulton, Georgia.
East Point, GA Local 868, another city located just outside of the Atlanta metro area was recently rechartered. Before the ink was dry on their new charter, Local 868 President Doug Stanley was immediately threatened with discipline and possible termination if they didn’t make all the lieutenants drop out of the union (Doug is a long-tenured lieutenant in the East Point Fire Department). Our IAFF legal team went to work, and the city ultimately reversed their position and has now instituted payroll deduction for our members, including lieutenants. We look forward to pursuing collective bargaining for Local 868.
Dalton, GA Local 5258 was recently chartered through our organizing initiative. Located in North Georgia near the Tennessee border, our members struggled to achieve recognition with City Council. The Dalton City Council proposed drastic pension cuts citing a lack of revenue and long-range fears of underfunding. President Townsend contacted the IAFF with these concerns and our team immediately went into action assisting Local 5258. The City recently withdrew its proposed cuts to the fire fighters’ pension plan. President Townsend was ecstatic when the town announced that it will not be making any changes to the pension plans, and the City will increase its contribution to the defined contribution plan. Another IAFF victory for the members of Local 5258.
The list of successes in Georgia continues to grow as we expand our organizing footprint in Albany, Cobb County, Augusta-Richmond County, Athens-Clarke County, Savannah and more. Whether its pension cuts, FLSA overtime concerns or members rights to representation, much of our success is thanks to the outstanding work from our General Counsel Doug Steele and his legal team at McGillivary, Steele, Elkin LLP. The power of the Union is enormous if we stand together!
The Professional Firefighters Association of South Carolina, under the leadership of President Roger Odachowski, is making enormous progress in organizing and representation within their state. This truly is an historic moment for our South Carolina members. In a state that does not allow collective bargaining, our PFFASC leaders successfully lobbied for protections for firefighter cancers. I am very proud of their accomplishments.
Thanks to their hard work, South Carolina members now have healthcare protections and a line-of-duty death benefit for occupational cancer. H 5139/S 1071, the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, calls for a one-time payment of $20,000 per cancer diagnosis and a healthcare benefit of up to $12,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. Additionally, the legislation also calls for a $75,000 line-of-duty death benefit for the families of fire fighters who die because of occupational cancer. This was all accomplished during the pandemic, when meeting legislators was extremely limited and difficult at best.
The bill received final approval in the state legislature on September 23, 2020, and Governor Henry McMaster signed the legislation on September 28, 2020, to make state-mandated signing deadlines. The governor scheduled a special signing ceremony to acknowledge the importance of the bill and to honor the hard work of the fire fighters who advocated for the bill’s passage. I had the honor of joining Governor McMaster and a large contingent of our South Carolina IAFF affiliate leaders for a special October 14, 2020, signing ceremony at the South Carolina State Fire Academy in Columbia. A truly momentous day in the South.
Special recognition goes to Dr. Steven Kahn from Charleston, South Carolina, who helped us with crafting the right legislative language for our members. In the strong right-to-work state of South Carolina, President Odachowski and all of our South Carolina local affiliate leaders are making great strides in fostering relations with new South Carolina fire departments, fire chiefs and helping to cultivate new local affiliates. Look for South Carolina to continue to grow over the next few years. Mauldin Local 5269; Georgetown County Local 4526; Irmo Local 5271; and North Charleston Local 2994 (reaffiliated) are some of our newest locals in the IAFF South Carolina region.
Our work in North Carolina also continues to show progress with steady growth in a number of established and newly organized locals. The exceptional efforts of our Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina Association, IAFF Service Representatives and IAFF local affiliate leaders have allowed us to grow the membership in another strong right-to-work state, with a strict prohibition against public sector collective bargaining. To date, we have continued to add new IAFF members and affiliate locals in North Carolina. Continuance of this project will undoubtedly increase our presence in North Carolina and the political clout this state needs.
PFFPNC President Scott Mullins and his team has helped to lead the charge in change at the state and local level. Representing and organizing for our membership has been a priority. His team is effectively working in the North Carolina state legislature to change the culture, enact new pro-fire fighter legislation, and protect and improve our members rights and benefits.
North Carolina is also no stranger to anti-union animus from their employers. Leland, NC Local 5160 President Matt Elario and two of his Executive Board members were summarily dismissed from their employment after the union started demanding the proper personal protective equipment for their members during this pandemic. The PFFPNC stepped up and assisted Local 5160 in obtaining proper personal protective equipment for the membership. Shortly thereafter President Elario and two of his Executive Board members were terminated. We have been able to provide some financial assistance to our members through the IAFF legal justice program. These programs are paramount to our representation efforts when members are attacked for standing up to employers. The IAFF legal team of McGillivary, Steele, Elkin LLP stepped up with the Guardian program and will continue the fight for fairness in representing our members. This fight is not over and will continue until we can see justice for our members.
Look for North Carolina to continue to grow over the next few years as we recently welcomed Black Mountain Local 5246 and Waynesville Local 5247, some of our newest locals in the IAFF North Carolina region.
Congratulations to the Florida Professional Firefighters and their entire team. With another big push from the Florida Professional Firefighters in 2019, the Florida Legislature passed important cancer legislation covering fire fighters diagnosed with specific cancers and labeled them as a line-of-duty-injury. This was not an easy task with the odds stacking against them, state leaders and local affiliates leaders would not rest until this legislation was heard. SB 426 was monumental in that it was passed unanimously in both the Florida House and Senate. The legislation, commonly referred to as Florida Firefighter Cancer Coverage, provided an avenue for our members to avoid the trappings of workers’ compensation and get the help they need in a difficult fight for their renewed health.
FPF President Bernoska, VP Rocco Salvatori, Secretary/Treasurer Gilbert Marsh, President Emeritus Jim Tolley, all the FPF District Vice Presidents, FPF staff, and local affiliate leaders had a part in making this significant piece of legislation a reality. In these trying political times, this single piece of legislation will have a lasting impact on our 30,000+ professional fire fighters in Florida forever.
In 2018, Ian Womack, Assistant Chief of EMS for St. Petersburg Fire Department, a Fitch and Associates employee, recommended to the Orlando City Commission that they reduce the minimum daily staffing for the Orlando Fire Department from 130 to 122. This recommendation would have reduced the staffing to eight of their engine companies. It was abundantly clear that Fitch and Associates had one goal in mind, to attack the jobs performed by members of Local 1365. Fitch made a recommendation to replace dual-certified fire fighter/paramedics with single certified civilian employees, a direct attack on the IAFF and our members. Fitch recommended against safe staffing levels established by NFPA 1710. Orlando President Ron Glass brought this to the attention of the IAFF and, in 2019, the IAFF Executive Board declared Fitch and Associates a rival organization to the IAFF with their dangerous recommendations that would impact our members lives.
Shortly thereafter, a former Fitch and Associates employee formed the Juncture Group and began to lobby the St. Peterburg city Council for staffing reductions. Juncture Group, Inc. is a public safety consulting firm in St. Petersburg, Florida. Its principal and owner, Bruce Moeller, has a long history of promoting privatization and other positions that are antithetical to the IAFF’s mission. This included attempting to severely downsize the fire department, opposing implementing cross-trained dual role fire fighter/paramedics and thwarting the efforts of the local to fully integrate fire-based EMS transport while serving as Fire Chief for Broward County, Florida. As Assistant County Administrator for Pinellas County, Florida, Moeller supported a Fitch & Associates recommendation that the County fire 150 fire fighters, shut down fire units for 10 hours a day and close several fire stations. He subsequently left his position with Pinellas County to work as a Senior Consultant for Fitch & Associates, where he conducted additional studies that similarly recommended slashing fire department budgets, eliminating IAFF member positions, reducing service levels and increasing response times.
Bruce Moeller then used his new firm, the Juncture Group, Inc., to continue working against IAFF members under the guise of “fact-based consulting” by promoting similar “cost-saving” measures in St. Petersburg. Specifically, he is attempting to influence City Council by distributing information which denies the dangers and touts the efficiencies of priority dispatch and privatization — measures which Local 747 vehemently opposed. Local 747 President Rick Pauley jumped into action and alerted the IAFF to a new potential rival organization, the Juncture Group. In June of 2020, the Executive Board met at the request of Local 747 St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters President Rick Pauley and voted unanimously to declare the Juncture Group, Inc., a rival organization.
Thank you, President Pauley and President Glass, for your due diligence. It is extremely important for our members to know who these rival organization are ahead of time and to stay vigilant to their consulting work and their destructive anti-worker recommendations. Our IAFF stands ready to assist you should any of these rival organizations seek work in your jurisdiction.
Organizing efforts in Florida continue with Flagler Beach Local 5270, Apopka Local 5293 and Sumter County Local 5313 who were all recently chartered through our organizing initiative. Florida has more to organize and we will continue our efforts growing the IAFF fire fighter brand.
Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands
While Puerto Rico continues their slow recovery from the destruction of several Hurricanes, residents continue to deal with the effects of that devastation and the ever-present COVID-19. Fire fighters and residents alike continue to deal with a lack of clean water, housing and electricity.
We’ve made two trips to the Island in hopes of identifying a base for recruiting fire fighters from Puerto Rico to join the IAFF. This has much promise. In the future, we plan to review and expand our 12th District organizing initiatives into Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The IAFF is committed to providing the best possible service and representation to our members. Fire fighters in both of these regions have either previously enjoyed IAFF representation and/or considered joining the IAFF. As we continue to improve and expand our organizing programs, these fire fighters will see the value of joining the IAFF Brotherhood/Sisterhood.
Disaster Relief Assistance
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has been hyperactive at best, producing 30 named storms as of the writing of this report (and the season is yet to be finished). This included 12 hurricanes, across much of the Atlantic/Caribbean basin. These storms have set several records through early November and thoroughly tested our IAFF disaster relief assistance response. 22 of the 25 storms through October 5 had their earliest formation date on record. For perspective, the average formation date of the Atlantic’s 9th-named storm is October 4 for the years spanning 1966 to 2009, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Sharing the response with DVP Todd of the 14th District, our IAFF GO Team, along with myself and headquarters staff, responded quicky to Hurricane Sally. We deployed our newly acquired communications platform on AT&T First Net with great success. The IAFF also rolled out our first Disaster Assistance trailers funded by the IAFF Financial Corp in October. They have recently been deployed to several late season storms in the panhandle and Gulf Coast region.
These IAFF trailers are now available for future disaster deployments. Thank you to Local 2424 Cape Coral for the care and maintenance of our disaster relief assistance trailer, equipment and supplies. As of the writing of this report, we are preparing for yet another deployment in the Southwest Florida region. IAFF staff, DFSRs, local officers, state officers and local membership from all of our affiliates help to provide this much needed relief to our members in the 12th District. A real team effort was put up by all and stands as a model of our teamwork and Brotherhood. A special thanks to the support team from Local 122 who worked tirelessly in the 14th District providing much needed support when two hurricanes made land fall 12 miles apart within weeks of each other. All these relief efforts are supported by your IAFF Disaster Relief program and the generous donations from IAFF members across these two great nations. From the 12th District…Thank you!
Our world has forever changed and will undoubtedly continue to change our profession in the techniques we utilize in responding to emergencies and with new types of safeguards we have developed to protect our members who continue to respond 24/7 to the known and unknown dangers of 2021 and beyond. While our IAFF has been challenged in a number of ways over the past year with this pandemic and a myriad of controversy, every organization must take a look at themselves introspectively from time to time. Our job representing the membership is not an easy one. Representing our members when they need us the most should continue to remain our #1 priority as an organization while we seek out new ways to conduct business, amend policies and add new procedures to our repertoire.
It is my distinct honor and privilege to continue to represent the 12th District as your Vice President. As our country reopens for business and vaccines are distributed, I look forward to in-person meetings with you and your membership to discuss the future of the 12th District.
Together we can continue to achieve greatness for the 12th District. In closing, I would like to thank my home Local 4321 President Jason Smith and all the members of Local 4321 for their unwavering support and assistance. They give me the strength and resources to continue to help all the Brothers and Sisters in our great 12th District. Good luck on a successful convention and remember that we are always stronger together as we grow our membership, united in our spirit, united in our mission.
We are #Union Strong and we are #12th District Strong.