Tom Thornberg
5th District Vice President

In accordance with the International Association of Fire Fighters Constitution and By-Laws, Article VI, Section 7, I respectfully submit this report as 5th District Vice President to General President Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Kelly, the IAFF Executive Board and all Officers and Delegates to the 55th Convention. This is a summary report of my activities and assignments as 5th District Vice President from August 2018 to April 2020.

As I begin to write this report, it is the first week of April and we are in the midst of the worst pandemic of our lifetime — COVID-19. It is my sincere hope that by the time you read this, that the sickness has left us, and we are all healing from this horrible disease. I know there will be long-lasting effects from COVID-19 and we may never fully recover from its devastation,  but I can unequivocally say that I am so proud of how our Union handled this situation and provided the best possible, most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 to our members on the front line, taking care of the citizens of our two great nations. It was the safety of our members that was paramount to the IAFF, and we made sure our members had the information and guidance needed to carry out their duties as safely as possible.

Since 2012, it has been my honor and privilege to serve the Sisters and Brothers of the “Fearless 5th District” of the IAFF. At our last convention in Seattle, we celebrated our 100th anniversary, and we did it with style! I have never been so proud to be part of something as I am of being an IAFF member and officer. Holding this office has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I hope it continues to be as I am seeking another term of office as 5th District Vice President at this convention.

During the past two years, I have been proud to serve on the following committees as appointed by the General President; Grants Administration & HAZMAT Training (chair), Emergency Disputes Fund and Legal Services (vice chair), Canadian Affairs, Communications, Media & E18, Emergency Medical Services, Information & Technology Systems and Technical Assistance & Information Resources. As for IAFF Standing Committees, I am the chair of the Behavioral Health Committee. I am also a Board Member of the IAFF Financial Corporation. At this convention, I will again chair the Legislative Committee. Over the past two years, I have been at every IAFF conference, seminar and meeting that I was authorized to attend as well as the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Service in September each year.

I attend every meeting, conference, seminar and convention that I possibly can within the 5th District. One notable 5th District Convention in 2019 was the Professional Fire Fighters of North Dakota (PFFND) Convention in Williston, North Dakota. It was notable because it was the first convention of the PFFND in more than 20 years. The State Association (PFFND) had been a non-functioning affiliate for more than 5 years and was resurrected in November of 2018 under the new leadership of State President Darren Schimke and State Secretary/Treasurer Eric Eisenlohr. The Convention in Williston was a great event and was proud to have GP Schaitberger and GST Kelly both in attendance.

The locals and members of the 5th District continue to take advantage of the many programs and services provided to them by the IAFF. We have members attending every Political Training and Communications Academy. We have had several Peer Support training opportunities as well as other related Behavioral Health Training seminars. The new State Political Training Academy has already been held in Minnesota and is scheduled in Wisconsin next month.

Our District Field Service Reps (DFSRs) and Service Reps (SRs) working with IAFF staff continue to give our affiliates the tools and resources they need through MFAs, GIS, wage comparisons, health and wellness guidance and the list goes on, to provide our locals with the information they need to get their members the best possible arrangement or collective bargaining agreement when it comes to wages, benefits and working conditions.

The DFSRs and SRs in the 5th District are second to none! Their dedication and work ethic goes beyond all expectations. So, I would like to recognize each and every one of them: DFSRs Jerry Biggart and Mike Woodzicka, SRs Jose Juan Carbajal, Mike Eliason, Patrick Kilbane, Derek Matykowski, Darren Schimke, Greg Sikora, Mike Smith, Lance Tryggestad and Scott Vadnais. Thank you for all that you do for the members of the 5th District and the IAFF!

The 5th District has been fortunate to have had a PEP event every year since 2015, and we were again approved to have one this year by General President Schaitberger. It was originally scheduled for the month of May but with the Coronavirus exposures affecting business and social gatherings, the event is postponed to a date to be determined.

5th District locals and state associations are deeply engaged in a variety of charities. MDA, Operation Warm (Coats for Kids), Salvation Army, the IAFF Charitable Foundation are a few on the national level, but our affiliates are also involved with many local charities. District-wide we nearly reached our $1 million goal for MDA in 2019. The 5th District has two MDA Summer Camps, one in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota. Many 5th District members donate their time for the full week as attendants for the kids when they are at summer camp. Each camp has a “Fire Fighter” day where our members spend the day with kids; the Fire Fighter days are very well-attended by our members. I am very proud of the charitable work done in the 5th District.

Organizing efforts continue in the 5th District. One of the first new IAFF locals of the decade was from Minnesota; Inver Grove Heights Local 5251 came on board in January 2020. Other new locals that have joined the IAFF since our last convention are: Woodbury, MN Local 5178, White Bear Lake, MN Local 5202, Stillwater, MN Local 1049 and Pewaukee, WI Local 5241. I have also met with or had conversations with three other potential fire departments that will likely organize with us. There has been a shift happening over the past several years of fire departments moving from volunteer, paid on call or part time to full-time departments. As this is happening, we are ready to organize these groups as IAFF affiliates. I know the IAFF membership organizationally is growing exponentially, and I am proud to be a component of that growth.

This is a summary of my activities as 5th District Vice President for the IAFF. I would like to thank General President Schaitberger and General Secretary Treasurer Kelly, their staff and all of the employees at the IAFF for the amazing work you do every day for our members. The training, education, programs and services you provide to our members is the gold standard among Unions. We are simply the best in the house of labor!

I would also like to thank the members of the 5th District for their continued faith and support of me as we continue this journey together. Thanks to my beautiful wife Cathy and my two Fire Fighter/IAFF member sons, Kyle and Cody, for always being there for me, your love and support is what keeps me going.

Thank you to all of the delegates gathered for our 55th Convention, I wish you a productive and successful convention! We are “Stronger Together!”

Addendum to the 5th District Report for the 55th Convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters                                                      

This is an addendum to the Convention Report originally submitted in April of 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic still with us and the Executive Board has voted to have an Emergency Convention – virtually – January 25-29, 2021.

This is a report of the 5th District from April 2020 through November 2020.

Much has happened and much hasn’t happened in the past seven months since I wrote the original convention report. What hasn’t happened are very many in-person meetings. All IAFF conferences have been either cancelled or postponed. Virtual meetings rule the day and are now being carried into our convention. It is unfortunate that we are unable to meet in person and I believe much will be lost because we will not be, but for the safety of everyone involved, this is our best course of action. I am confident that we will still get the necessary work done that is required of us but the comradery of being together in person will be missed deeply.

What has been happening within the IAFF has been disturbing to say the least. Allegations of impropriety and even malfeasance at the top levels of our organization have been leveled and it has been dividing our Union. I find all of this to be sad and disheartening. I feel we have built a great Union, second to none, and to see the division created by these allegations, most of them baseless, is disgusting. I am angry about what is going on, as are my fellow IAFF Executive Board members. We are doing something about it. We are taking each and every accusation very seriously and are investigating them thoroughly. One of the allegations accused General President Schaitberger of taking an improper pension from the time he served on staff with the IAFF. This has been and continues to be investigated. What has been discovered so far is that General President Schaitberger did absolutely nothing wrong in the application or awarding of his well-deserved pension. I was one of three DVPs that served on the Claims Committee that made that determination. Other allegations made against the General President and General Secretary/Treasurer continue to be investigated by the Ethical Practices Committee and hopefully we will have their report by convention.

What also truly saddens me are the many leaks to outside agencies of our internal problems and issues. The false narrative that is being portrayed in the public arena is causing a greater divide amongst us and putting our “business in the streets” does not help this Union in any way whatsoever. We can and should be taking care of our problems internally. All of this has led to a lot of time and money being spent where it could have been directed to serving our membership. Hopefully the new year and this convention will bring an end to all of this and a new beginning for this great Union.

Not all that has happened in 2020 has been bad, we elected a new U.S. President – Joe Biden, who has been a longtime friend to the IAFF and the “House of Labor.” We can expect great things from President Biden over the next four years. I know he will deliver for us – he always has!

Another good thing that has happened since my original report, one the three fire departments that I have been working to organize with us – has! We recently welcomed West Fargo, ND Local 5307 into the IAFF.

I am going to spend the balance of my report recognizing two great Union leaders that will be retiring from Union office after this convention.

First, I would like to recognize 9th District Vice President Ray Rahne. Ray and I have been friends for many years, and I have admired him as a union officer that entire time. We first met as state association officers and Ray always stood out as a great and effective leader. Not only was he a great union leader, he was a great fire officer as well. Many do not know that Ray was the Incident Commander of the Columbine school incident. His actions there saved many lives. Ray is also a patriot – serving in the USMC. I am proud to know Ray and call him my friend. The 9th District was lucky to have Ray leading them, and the IAFF was lucky to have his input and influence all these years. Good luck and best wishes in your retirement Ray!

Finally, I am going to recognize another man I am so proud to call my friend and Brother, General President Harold A. Schaitberger. I can unequivocally say that no one person has done more for this IAFF the Harold Schaitberger! Harold has made this Union into the powerhouse it is today. The list of things Harold has done to make this Union what is today is endless. There is not one program or service to our members that doesn’t have Harold’s mark on it. To say that I am amazed at what he has accomplished is an understatement. I believe that there will never be another General President for this IAFF that will hold a candle to Harold. I am so proud that I have served on an Executive Board led by Harold these past eight years. When I first got on the executive board, he said to me “we are going to do great things together” and under his leadership, we have! I hate to see Harold go, but I wish him all the best in his retirement. The fruits of your labor will forever be part of this Union!

Thank you, Harold, for all you have done for this Great Union!

This concludes the amendment of my District Report for the IAFF 55th Convention. We are and will be “Stronger Together.”