Ambulance Chasers

Winning ambulance contracts? It's all about who you know. (Unless it's about the dirt they've got on you.)

The state union president, Brian Tobin, replied that he wouldn't respond to anonymous e-mails.

Billy Shields was less polite.

"If you are a legitimate member of the IAFF, and wish to file charges against any or all of us with [the union], it is your right," he wrote back. "You have no right to harass me."

Pat Cantelme
Giulio Sciorio
Pat Cantelme
Billy Shields, president of the union Pat Cantelme built, is supporting his old friend.
Giulio Sciorio
Billy Shields, president of the union Pat Cantelme built, is supporting his old friend.

"I know the truth hurts Billy," the anonymous e-mailer responded. ". . . you have lost the respect of many."

At that point, Rich Bauer, the union's sergeant at arms, had had enough.

"Bill has lost the respect of no one," he fired back. "Grow some hair one [sic] your nuts and let us know who you are!

"Come to the office and sit down and talk.

"Like a man!"

A meeting of the state union executive board last week also turned unpleasant.

Dave Manning, president of the Flagstaff local union and an officer in the state organization, says the Phoenix firefighters union is only staying neutral because of "skewed loyalties."

"The word I use is cronyism," he says. "What I have a problem with is turning our backs on our union brothers and sisters who've done a good job and paid their dues -- and now their jobs are being threatened by a company without union jobs."

Others seconded Manning's call, including Ty Perkins, president of the Mesa firefighters union.

Shields was livid.

"Billy Shields has himself a pretty good Irish temper," Manning says. "I don't think he was happy about it. But I think I had good support from the other state board members at the meeting."

In September, the emergency workers union lobbed a bomb at Bob Ramsey, Pat Cantelme, and PMT.

Most of the ire was directed at Cantelme.

The bomb came in the form of a seven-page letter to the International Association of Fire Fighters, coupled with an appendix that runs several hundred pages long.

In it, the union's vice president, Jason Payne, details Cantelme's involvement with Ramsey back when Cantelme was a union officer.

It raises the potential conflict of interest, taking care to note that, at the time Cantelme was working for Ramsey, he was chairing the IAFF's committee fighting privatization.

The filing also notes that, even though Ramsey says he wants to unionize, he's made no attempt to do so in Las Vegas, where he's held contracts for five years.

"This is a transparent effort to legitimize himself with old union friends so that, unimpeded by union interference, he can take contracts and jobs away from bona fide, dues paying IAFF members," Payne wrote.

The letter asked the international union to declare PMT a "hostile/rival organization."

The IAFF responded later that month. It denied the request. It didn't even touch on the allegations against Cantelme.

(IAFF spokesman Jeff Zack declined comment.)

The attack definitely caught Cantelme's attention.

"Look what they're doing," he says. "They're trying to discredit Bob and I, and PMT, on every front they possibly can. It's just an onslaught. They're doing everything they can to stop us -- except compete!"

He vows to win at least two of the three contracts that are on the table this year: Scottsdale, Tempe and Chandler. And he's not stopping there.

He's now looking to Peoria. And Glendale. And Mesa.

Maybe at some point, he says, he'll even come knocking in Phoenix.

That was his own turf, turf he fought to defend for the firefighters, and from private companies, for years. But there's room enough, now, for a private company to take some of the business.

And if it has to be a private company, why not his?

"All they've done is made us more determined," he says.

Shields, the union president in Phoenix, says that he couldn't support a move like that.

But Cantelme may have the power to outflank his old union buddy.

After all, earlier this year, the Phoenix Commission on Salaries recommended a major pay increase for city officials here. Under its recommendation, city council members would be bumped from $51,000 to $62,000. And the mayor's salary would increase to $88,000.

After the commission lobbied for the increase, voters approved the changes last month.

The man who chaired that commission was Pat Cantelme.

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