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City of Monterey announces retirement of Fire Chief effective December 30

MONTEREY, Calif. (KION-TV) -- Monterey Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer is set to retire effective December 30, 2023 according to the city of Monterey.

The announcement comes after union leaders with the Monterey Firefighters Association issued a vote of no confidence against its chief.

During that vote, 87% of people in the MFFA said a change in leadership is needed.

Chief Panholzer was hired as Monterey Fire Chief in 2013 after serving in multiple districts, including San Jose, San Ramon and Carmel Highlands Fire departments.

The city said an interim chief is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Monterey Firefighters "disappointed" with City Manager's response to concerns and "no confidence" vote in fire chief

The Monterey Firefighters Association (MFFA) is responding to "disappointing" comments made by City Manager Hans Uslar after the union issued a vote of no confidence in its fire chief in early November.

Union leaders said they're "extremely disappointed" and claim Uslar attempted to "deflect attention away from operational issues in the fire department by insinuating that firefighters are disgruntled by contract negotiations."

MFFA approved a resolution on a vote of no confidence for Monterey Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer, saying the chief failed to effectively communicate the needs of the fire department to the city council and its city manager as well as contractual agencies.

They argue the lack of effective communication resulted in deficiencies at the department, including negatively impacted emergency service delivery, risked public safety and the health and safety of firefighters.

KION has yet to hear back from Chief Panholzer regarding these concerns despite multiple attempts at reaching out to the chief for comment since the resolution was made public.

The union said the no confidence vote will not impact services to the community.

MFFA indicated an independent arbitrator will help with the process of forming a fair contract.

Monterey Firefighters Association vote "no confidence" in fire chief

MONTEREY, CALIF. (KION-TV)- The Monterey Firefighter Association Local 3707 have declared "no confidence" in Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer.

The Firefighters Union say the “No Confidence” resolution contains a list of safety concerns, deficiencies, and other issues that have plagued the Monterey Fire Department under the leadership of Chief Panholzer.

These issues include insufficient training, inadequate vehicle replacement and maintenance, deferred fire station maintenance, a lack of strategic planning, and ineffective communication.

The firefighters union said 87% of firefighters believe a change in leadership of the Monterey Fire Department is needed. On November 7th, members of Local 3707 approved a resolution that highlights the need for a reform in the department.

According to Firefighters Union, these issues have impacted the fire department for years, but recently morale has hit an all time low. Ross Pounds who is the President of the Firefighter Union spoke about the recent resolution voted on by the firefighters.

“One of the first concerns that was a part of the resolution was that we don't feel as if our needs are being communicated to the city manager," Pounds said.

Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar said that the firefighters have been without a labor contract for 18 months.

"Everyone else got pay increases," Uslar said. "And as you see in the in our area, also, the prices do not go down.”

This resolution comes after Panholzer was fired by former City Manager Mike McCarthy in November of 2017 and rehired in December that same year.

Panholzer started his career in 1977 with the Carmel Heights Fire District.

Pounds also expressed concerns over maintainence over the fire trucks.

"The state of the rest of the fleet is at a point, is at a critical point," Pounds said. "We feel like that there's been inadequate communication to properly repair and have those in a state of readiness.”

The Monterey Fire Department currently operates six fire stations and has 88 people currently employed.

Leaders also say recent injuries to firefighters and Chief Panholzer's lack of providing for firefighters’ mental health with incident stress management has left the members of the union with a feeling of abandonment. They believe the lack of support has slowed the recovery process of those involved.

"Employees have counseling services at no cost at their fingertips," Uslar said. "If there are critical incidents where people get hurt then there are counselors available who work through that.” 

The Monterey Firefighter Association also ensures that this "no confidence" vote won't impact daily service in the community. Pounds says they'll address their concerns "constructively and collaboratively" to improve the department.

"We will still be getting to calls as as fast and as safely as possible and providing the highest level of service that we can to the residents and visitors of the Peninsula," Pounds said.

Panholzer is the 12th Monterey Fire Chief since 1890. We have reached out to Chief Panholzer and we are waiting to hear back.

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Karl Cooke

Karl Cooke is a Multimedia Journalist for KION News Channel 46

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