After HFD firefighters were hurt when escaping armed man, Mayor John Whitmire stood by the union

Nick Natario Image
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
HFD chief's absence raises questions about his future
After Houston firefighters were hurt while escaping an armed man on Bissonnet Street, Mayor John Whitmire stood by the union, but not HFD Chief Peña.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- What happened to two Houston Fire Department crew members isn't the only question about this weekend's incident, as some wonder if there's anything to read into who was missing from a news conference.

After two of his firefighters were hurt Saturday night, HFD Chief Samuel Peña was vocal about the incident. Officers said a man having a seizure pulled a gun on two firefighters who got hurt while escaping.

Peña called it outrageous and inexcusable. Eyewitness News could only read words because he shared his thoughts on social media. His frustration couldn't be heard because he wasn't at a news conference.

"The mayor sent a clear signal in terms of the firefighters he's working with Lancton, not with Peña," Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said.

On Sunday, Houston Mayor John Whitmire held a news conference about the firefighter incident, and Houston Firefighters Union President Marty Lancton was by his side.

Peña wasn't there and told ABC13 he was unaware of the availability. During the news conference, ABC13 asked Whitmire why Peña was absent.

RELATED: Firefighters ran 'like a normal person,' didn't jump from balcony when facing armed man, family says

"Marty and I reached out to these firefighters and these families," Whitmire said. "I can't speak for the chief. I know that we've got a job to do. We're doing our job. So, I'll let it go at that."

On Monday, the mayor's spokesperson said the union invited Whitmire, he went, and there's nothing more to it.

ABC13 also asked about Peña's future with the new administration, but Whitmire's spokesperson didn't answer that question.

Experts said there's a history between Peña, the union, and Whitmire. Peña stood by Houston's former mayor, Sylvester Turner, as he fought the firefighters union looking to change the city's pension.

"While Peña has some popularity, he also was Sylvester Turner's fire chief and engaged in a very combative relationship with the firefighters union, which backed Mayor Whitmire," Jones explained.

ABC13 reached out to Peña on Monday and asked about the injured first responders and if he wanted to address his future with Whitmire.

Peña sent Eyewitness News the following statement:

"The two firefighters are doing better. Our firefighter support personnel will remain in contact, and we're hoping for a full and quick recovery by both firefighters. I was with the two firefighters and the other crews at the hospital on Saturday night when the incident occurred. Spoke with them and ensured they received the necessary support. Although we only had preliminary info, I briefed Mayor Whitmire about the incident and the status of employees that same night. The Mayor and I are in complete agreement that threats and violence against emergency response personnel must not be tolerated, and those causing injury should expect to be held accountable. We have both voiced this publicly and have publicly stated support for the good work our personnel do in challenging situations. The Mayor has demonstrated his concern for the wellbeing of our employees from the start. His willingness to speak directly to this is a testament. Safety is an important issue, and I'm glad he was joined by the union president in stressing that."

ABC13 also reached out to Lancton, and he sent the following statement:

"We thank Mayor Whitmire for taking the time to always show up for Houston firefighters and paramedics."

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