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Second chance for five in fire scandal

More than half the Sacramento firefighters slated for termination for drinking on duty, giving joy rides and attending a Porn Star Costume Ball will return to work, Sacramento Fire Chief Julius "Joe" Cherry said Tuesday.

Five of the nine firefighters who were sent letters of termination signed a "last chance contract" stipulating that they have to meet Fire Department standards for the next five years or they will be terminated without right to appeal.

"When we looked at all nine of them, took a balanced approach and listened to their arguments, we looked at five of them as salvageable employees," Cherry said, basing his decision on department records and performance reviews.

"I'm comfortable we did what was just, and we protected the public's interest in doing so. I'm comfortable that we struck the correct balance," Cherry said.

After six on-duty firefighters attended a Porn Star Costume Ball at the Radisson Hotel on July 3, the Fire Department launched an internal investigation into firefighter misconduct, the largest in the department's 131-year history. Twenty-four firefighters were disciplined. Cherry announced last month that 15 were reprimanded or suspended, and nine were sent letters of termination.

On Tuesday, Cherry said that of the five he decided not to terminate, four were suspended without pay for one month; one was suspended without pay for two weeks.

Of the other four firefighters, two resigned in lieu of termination, and two supervising captains are fighting their terminations through the civil appeals process.

"You can't find anywhere in the records that in the history of this department someone meted out more discipline than I just did," Cherry said. "I looked at their individual culpability. I tried to make the punishment fit the crime."

He said the last-chance contract would not be offered to the captains, who were responsible for the actions of their crews.

"In this culture, the captains are the leaders, and firefighters are expected to follow them," Cherry said.

The investigation has led fire officials to reinforce firehouse rules, revamp the code of conduct, set up an internal-investigation unit within the department and place firefighter conduct under the scrutiny of Don Casimere, head of the city's Office of Public Safety Accountability.

"I do think that the sentences that were handed out initially were the right ones," said Casimere, who oversaw the internal investigation.

The widespread investigation of firefighter misconduct began July 3 when a woman reported that she was sexually assaulted by an on-duty firefighter inside a fire engine at a Porn Star Costume Ball.

Days before the incident, a letter arrived at Fire Department headquarters reporting several firefighters had been picking up women outside downtown bars and giving them rides in fire equipment.

The district attorney later dropped the sexual assault allegation for lack of evidence. Seven firefighters were placed on paid administrative leave for their attendance and conduct at the porn star ball.

Firefighter Tom Mitchell resigned in lieu of termination.

Firefighter Dan Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave after attending the porn star ball. He later resigned in lieu of termination.

Scott Singleton, who was off duty when he attended the porn star ball, is one of the four firefighters given a one-month suspension, fire officials said. He has served his suspension and returned to work.

Capt. Christopher Wade, who was responsible for six of the firefighters who attended the porn star ball, was sent a letter of termination. He is one of the two captains in the appeal process. The Bee has not been able to confirm the other captain's name.

The Bee has requested the names and documents relating to the disciplinary actions under the Public Records Act.The Sacramento firefighters' union, Local 522, has advised the City Attorney's Office that it intends to seek a temporary restraining order to prevent release of the records.

Brian Rice, president of Local 522, said he would not comment because it is a personnel matter.

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