'They went through hell': 66 fire cadets sworn in after Prop B declared unconstitutional

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After months in political limbo and just weeks from being laid off, 66 Houston Fire Department cadets were sworn in Thursday afternoon. They are now officially Houston firefighters.

The fire department says some will be sent to stations as soon as Saturday.

Cadets are fire department trainees. The group sworn in Thursday was made up of veteran firefighters from other cities and dozens of complete rookies. Both groups came to Houston in 2018 with the promise of joining HFD, but Prop B put those plans up in the air.

Prop B: No layoffs, no demotions, no raises... still no clarity

First, the cadets finished training, but were denied the chance to join the ranks. Fire Chief Sam Pena and Mayor Sylvester Turner held them at the academy, at lower rank and vastly lower pay, to save money in the face of Prop B.

At the time, 13 Investigates found the trained firefighters digging ditches, raking leaves and pouring concrete.

As Mayor Turner and the fire union failed to reach a deal to implement voter approved pay raises, the cadets were the first to receive layoff notices on April 4. The layoffs were to be effective June 30.

That all changed Wednesday when District Court Judge Tanya Garrison declared Prop B unconstitutional. Mayor Turner promised to swear in cadets and avoid the 220 other firefighter layoffs.

Thursday, with little fanfare, the cadets were sworn in at the fire academy near Houston's Hobby Airport.

Turner, who was not at the ceremony, offered "Congratulations to the 66 newest members of the Houston Fire Department. Today's swearing-in represents the culmination of their hard work and dedication to serving the citizens of Houston."

Fire Chief Pena was similarly not in attendance. Out of the city on business, Pena said in a statement, "I am honored to have 66 cadets receive the oath of office as Houston firefighters today. Their commitment to this organization has been clearly demonstrated."

The fire department did not send any notice prior to the ceremony. Instead, reporters learned of the rushed ceremony in a short fire department news release sent at 6:23 Thursday night. It offered few details and no explanation why the cadets, who were set to be the first job losses in the battle over Prop B, were sworn in with such little fanfare.

On ABC13 reporter Ted Oberg's Instagram page, a user who identified herself as one of the cadet's mothers weighed in.

"They went through hell! Imagine relocating from across the country and them being treated as a political pawn? We were so sad not to be there to support and celebrate with our son on this normally momentous occasion."

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