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Six city firefighters ousted

Six Sacramento firefighters were dismissed and 13 suspended or reprimanded after the largest internal investigation in the Sacramento Fire Department's 131-year history confirmed they were drinking on duty or offering joy rides on fire trucks and engines, officials said Tuesday.

One captain was among the six terminated, pending possible appeals, last week, Sacramento Fire Chief Joe Cherry said. All six worked at Station 6 in Oak Park.

Two other captains - one male and one female - and eleven other firefighters are being suspended without pay for up to one month or are receiving reprimands.

"This has been the most intense and thorough investigation in the history of the Fire Department into the conduct of firefighters," Cherry said at a press conference Tuesday attended by Mayor Heather Fargo, several City Council members and city officials. "It has caused me a great deal of pain and anguish. But we will get this Fire Department back in step with what the public expects of us."

The city began looking at firefighter misconduct on July 3 after on-duty firefighters from North Sacramento's Station 20 were caught attending a "Porn Star Costume Ball" at the Radisson Hotel the night before. That incident led to more reports of firefighter misconduct, mostly at Station 6 in Oak Park and Station 1 in downtown Sacramento.

In what Fargo called a "very difficult investigation," Tuesday's announcement brings the number of firefighters disciplined in the last three months to 25. Nine have been terminated and 16 reprimanded, representing about 4 percent of the city's 500-plus sworn firefighters.

"Inappropriate and illegal activity is not going to be tolerated," Fargo said. "Unfortunately, this is a small group of people who have tainted the Fire Department."

The investigation has led to the creation of a new organizational structure within the department, Cherry said. The city is expanding its supervisory ranks by hiring an additional battalion chief, bringing the number to four. An internal affairs department is being organized and firefighters are finding new restrictions on where, when and how they can use vehicles and equipment.

"Clearly, this has tarnished the badge of the Sacramento Fire Department and has been an embarrassment to the city of Sacramento," City Manager Bob Thom as said. "We obviously have a problem at the supervisory level as well as at the management level."

The investigation began after six on-duty firefighters took three city vehicles to the Porn Star Costume Ball July 2. A woman accused a firefighter of sexually assaulting her in a fire engine outside the hotel. The District Attorney's Office declined to press charges and the firefighter resigned.

City officials have refused to name the fired firefighters, citing personnel issues. One name has been made public in court documents and The Bee has independently confirmed the names of three others through city and fire sources. Three were fired following an investigation of the Porn Star Costume Ball and one was fired last week as a result of the expanded investigation.

Those four firefighters are:

* Chris Wade, a captain who supervised six firefighters from North Sacramento Station 20 who attended the event. Wade received a termination letter at the end of July and has appealed his dismissal in Sacramento Superior Court.

* Firefighter Scott Singleton, who attended the costume ball off-duty. He was sent a letter of termination because he was on the engine at the time of the alleged sexual assault. He has filed an internal appeal.

* Firefighter Tom Mitchell, who attended the Porn Star event. He resigned in July after being sent a letter of termination.

* Dan Kennedy, a firefighter under investigation for drinking on duty at Station 6 and who had attended the costume ball. He resigned Tuesday after receiving a letter of termination. Kennedy had been on paid administrative leave since he attended the costume ball.

Wade and Singleton remain on paid administrative leave while they appeal their dismissals. The Bee was unable to reach the firefighters for comment.

After the Porn Star ball, city officials received numerous reports of firefighter misconduct, such as cruising downtown bars, chatting up women and offering them rides on engines and trucks. The investigation included 65 interviews with firefighters and 16 with outside witnesses, authorities said. The complaints focused on Station 6 and Station 1 on Q Street downtown, Cherry said.

Firefighters from Station 6 have faced scrutiny in the past two years. A female firefighter was the victim of several pranks and threats. A yearlong investigation failed to identify who was responsible. The city is now facing a lawsuit that is scheduled for trial next year.

"I'm extremely disappointed with those individuals," said Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, whose district is covered by Station 6. "It's the busiest firehouse west of the Mississippi. How do they have time for misconduct?"

"It disturbs me that firefighters with a lack of moral centering are out there dispensing aid to my constituents," Hammond said.

The six dismissed firefighters could save their jobs, said Dee Contreras, head of the city's labor relations division. They could be eligible to return to work as part of the city's "last chance" agreement offered to personnel who claim to have drinking or drug problems, Contreras said.

The decision to offer firefighters a second chance for drinking on duty will be made on a "case-to-case basis," Contreras said.

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The Bee's Elizabeth Hume can be reached at (916) 321-1203 or