Austin firefighters' group defends its leader in war of words with attorney

Austin Firefighters Assoc. members speak out in support of their president. (Photo: CBS Austin News)

The Austin firefighters union is lashing back against a local attorney defending one of their own. It's the newest twist in the case of retired fire Lt. Jim Baker who stands accused of planting a hidden camera in a women's locker room.

On Monday, members of the Austin Firefighters Association had a lot to say about what attorney Larry Sauer said about them in a recent Austin Chronicle item. In the December 1 issue he's quoted as calling the complaints against his client "a witch hunt" by association president Bob Nicks and "firefighters that don't know what the hell they're doing."

Many of Austin's 80 female firefighters made it to Monday's event to show their support for their union president and his statements. Captain Christine Jones said, “President Nicks' statements have come directly from the multiple membership meetings and membership-wide votes that the Austin Firefighters Association has had on this subject."

They claim Austin Fire Department officials could have headed-off recent charges against Lt. Baker if they had taken the firefighters more seriously four years ago. Firefighter Vanessa Schaefer said, “The lack of the investigation by the Austin Fire Department and Chief Kerr of Lt. Baker's inappropriate touching of women patients in 2013 enabled the illegal video recording of women firefighters in their fire station locker room by Lt. Baker."

But according to the Austin Fire department and Baker's attorney, Lt. Baker was cleared in the 2013 incident. The AFD statement read in part, “The office of the medical director concluded Lt. Baker had not violated any patient standard." Baker’s attorney Larry Sauer adds, “They're trying to take something that happens four years later and relate it to a non-starter incident where he did the right thing and do what he was supposed to do. I think it's really reprehensible what they're trying to do."

Meanwhile, the Austin Firefighters Association president says their group is launching a new effort to help them be more responsive to member's concerns. It's a human relations committee the association hopes can be a positive force in changing the culture the way they feel it needs to be changed.

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