Texas fire lieutenant suspended for ‘neglect of duty’

By Katie Hall
The Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas —The city’s fire chief considered firing or demoting an Austin Fire Department lieutenant based on his attitude toward Austin-Travis County EMS medics and dispatchers, according to a memo she wrote to the civil service director.

Austin fire Lt. James Crowther was ultimately suspended from duty for 60 days, a time period that ends Sept. 16, the memo says.

“I decided to allow him to retain his employment and rank with the expectation that this pattern of behavior will not be repeated,” Austin fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr wrote Monday. Should this pattern continue, Crowther will be fired or demoted, Kerr said.

In the memo, Kerr said Crowther has previously questioned EMS dispatchers about the need for firefighters’ presence at scenes and constantly questioned medics on scene as to the need for their assistance. He has also previously failed to communicate and collaborate with EMS, including sitting inside a fire truck rather than accompanying them to meet with a patient, Kerr said.

This conduct “demonstrates a pattern of neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming, poor judgment and a lack of leadership,” Kerr wrote in the memo.

However, Mike Levy, who serves on Austin’s Public Safety Commission, said that he understands where Crowther is coming from. While Levy has never spoken to Crowther, he’s heard many Austin firefighters express concerns that they are assigned to too many minor medical calls.

“In Austin, they go to too many calls, calls that other cities just don’t go to, calls that have a low probability of needing fire backup. … It takes (firefighters) out of their territory, so they’re not available for a real fire or a real emergency,” Levy said.

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