Prop B pay raise fight traps 44 more cadets at fire academy

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston fire cadets invited their families to the academy Wednesday to see how hard they've trained over the last several months. Walks across the training ground in the mist came in place of a cancelled graduation ceremony.

Even though nearly four dozen cadets are ready to go to Houston fire stations, they're not.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner decided not to swear these firefighters in due to the ongoing discussions over the price of voter approved pay raises through Prop B.

Turner says it could cost the city $100 million to implement the pay parity plan. It is money Turner says the city does not have. He is keeping the option of firefighter layoffs on the table. It is bureaucratically easier to fire cadets before they are sworn in.

Wednesday, after learning reporters were eager to ask him about the fire cadets, Turner hastily cancelled his regularly scheduled news conference. He didn't respond to a question asked by ABC13's Ted Oberg.

"Mayor, do you have a minute to talk about the firefighters not graduating?"

Turner walked about the council chamber without answering.

The 44 cadets group recently practiced their firefighter's oath with Houston Professional Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton. Lancton said he did it, "to show the mayor how easy administering the oath really is." The cadets' actual oath may never come.

In all, there are now 68 trained cadets waiting for their swearing in at the academy. The delay prompted Houston Councilman Mike Kubosh to summon biblical wisdom to end the stand-off.

"Like Moses said to Pharaoh, 'Let my people go!'" Kubosh said. "Well I say, 'Mayor, swear in these firefighter cadets, let em go!'"

Weeks ago, 13 Investigates showed you the plight of 23 other firefighter cadets in the same situation. They too are done with training but spent filling time digging holes, raking leaves and pouring concrete.

It is not work saving lives, and according to Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena, it's not the best way to use trained lifesavers.

"The best and most efficient use of these resources is out in the field, protecting the community," Pena told ABC13 on Feb. 5.

13 Investigates also learned of an open invitation from the Memphis Fire Department for trained Houston cadets to jump ship and take the training Houston taxpayers funded to help people in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Memphis Fire Department is coming to Houston next month to sign our trained lifesavers to work there. If they are hired in Memphis, the trapped cadets would get an immediate $26,000 raise. Sources inside the Houston Fire Department say Dallas, San Antonio, Plano, Cy-Fair and other local departments are calling too.

There was one sign of progress late Wednesday afternoon. One firefighter cadet was sworn in hours before his 36th birthday. Texas civil service rules say no firefighter can be sworn in after they turn 36. If Fire Chief Sam Pena and Houston Councilman Dwight Boykins had not administered the oath to Germain Luna Wednesday, his career could've ended before it ever started.

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Fire academy cadet Germain Luna was sworn in just in the nick of time.

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