Burning Sensation

Firefighters union boss Billy Shields screwed up. Now, he's ticked off Phoenix's most powerful law firm

But the fact remains that Shields' nine-year run as president is ending in a very ugly way.

Legal threats often are just jargon, and boring jargon at that. But Lewis and Roca's letter to Shields about the "forged" document is so spicy, it's practically smoking.

Matt Mignanelli

Shields' claims that the documents are forgeries "recklessly damages reputations and goodwill that have taken generations to build," writes the firm's managing partner, Kenneth Van Winkle Jr., "and it is intolerable."

Just before our deadline on Tuesday, June 26, Hart called me to say that his firm had reached an agreement with Shields. But it comes with a price. Van Winkle's letter demanded not only that Shields set the record straight, but that the union correct the minutes to reflect the document's legitimacy.

Hart says that the matter has been resolved "amicably" — but he adds that the union "agreed to everything we requested in the letter."

I don't think I'm the only one who can't wait to read the official retraction and the new and improved minutes.

How embarrassing for Billy Shields. And his union.

And I'm not the only one who's paying attention to this one. Van Winkle's letter, after all, circulated around the Valley's fire stations with a certain schadenfreude.

Shields' union, the United Phoenix Firefighters Association, represents firefighters not just in Phoenix, but also Peoria, Glendale, Tempe, and Chandler. No doubt, most of its firefighters are perfectly happy with Shields' leadership. Pay is good, and so are working conditions.

But there's a faction that's grown increasingly, and vocally, unhappy with union leadership. They tell me that Shields has been too willing to use union clout to help his friend, Cantelme, win business for his ambulance company. Though Newco never actually got off the ground, Cantelme is now co-owner in a company called Professional Medical Transport.

Some firefighters believe Shields has supported Cantelme's company at the expense of union workers at rival Southwest Ambulance. Southwest used to have sole rights to ambulance service in Scottsdale and Chandler. Now, Cantelme's company, which isn't unionized under the International Association of Fire Fighters, does the job instead.

Shields has seemed stunned by the criticism directed at him.

After Phoenix Fire Captain Derrick Johnson, a former union officer, questioned Shields' staff about the Lewis and Roca document, Shields came to his station to discuss the matter. Firehouse gossip has it that Shields was livid, but Johnson tells me that his old boss was more hurt than anything.

"I told him that document could be a very divisive thing, and we needed to get it solved," Johnson says. "If that document was real, we should have been made aware of it — and been able to make a decision on how we felt about it, because it affected our jobs."

Shields seemed to agree, Johnson says, and the meeting ended with hugs.

But at least one other encounter didn't end quite so positively.

After one fire captain asked a union rep about the Lewis and Roca letter, Shields allegedly called the captain and threatened him.

The captain declined to discuss the matter with me. But he apparently contacted his battalion chief last week to complain about Shields' behavior. Fire Chief Bobby Khan said that Internal Affairs will be following up.

"We're a long way from saying there was a threatening call," Khan says. "But there has been an allegation."

I can't wait to see how Shields is going to explain away this allegation. Hey, maybe the battalion chief's report is forged. Or maybe the captain was trying to extort Shields!

Somehow, I'm sure Billy Shields has a ready answer. But I bet there are a lot of firefighters wishing he'd just shut up.

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My Voice Nation Help

how many times has miss fenske written about shields? too many. "strapping firefighter who personifies the Irish charm that goes with the stereotype." she should ask him out on a date.


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