By most accounts, Steve Abraira did a decent job as Dallas' fire chief. He served for five years, was well-respected by the rank-and-file, and ran a department with no glaring issues. But somewhere along the line, he crossed City Manager Mary Suhm, who issued an ultimatum: resign or be fired.
Abraira chose the latter, though he didn't exactly go quietly. He fired a parting shot in the form of a letter to firefighters in which he blasted Suhm for crippling the fire department and compromising the safety of Dallas residents.
That screed gave a hint of what seems to have been Abraira's underlying problem: politics. Mike Buehler, president of the Dallas Firefighters Association at the time, told the Morning News at the time that Abraira was never comfortable working the system. "He was sometimes overwhelmed by the politics in a city the size of Dallas," Buehler said. "He had a very strict sense of chain of command and felt that the chain of command ran through the city manager. He never did take advantage of relationships with the council members, which ultimately would have been beneficial."
After leaving Dallas, Abraira decamped for a time to the more hospitable environs of Palm Bay, Florida before settling in as fire chief in Boston a year-and-a-half ago. where he once again finds himself at the center of a controversy.
This time, though, it's not politics. The Boston Globe has the report:
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Thirteen deputy chiefs from the Boston Fire Department slammed Fire Chief Steve E. Abraira in a recent letter to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, insisting that their boss's response to the Marathon bombings was inadequate and part of a pattern of shirking responsibility during emergencies.
"You can unequivocally consider this letter a vote of no confidence in Chief Abraira," the deputy chiefs wrote to Menino in the letter dated April 26.
The fire officials strongly criticized Abraira's "inactions" after the bombings, writing that he failed to assume command responsibility at the scene on April 15 or show any leadership. They wrote that he later told department members that he felt the command staff had the scene under control as the Fire Department acted in a support role with law enforcement.
Boston Magazine notes the irony in this. During his time in Dallas, Abraira was known as being extremely hands-on, sometimes to a fault. They dig up a quote from the Morning News piece about his departure, quoting a firefighter named Joe Betzel.
"You'd see him at fires you wouldn't think he would be at, not just big multiple-alarm fires," Betzel said. "We always used to kid around with each other that for [former Chief] Dodd Miller to try to find your fire station, he'd have to have a Mapsco to find you."
For now, Mayor Menino is standing behind Abraira, as is a single one of the city's 14 deputy fire chiefs. But when 90-plus percent of the people you supervise publicly refer to you as the "ghost fire chief", the chances of keeping your job are slim.