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Ex-firefighter calls bosses lax

A Sacramento Fire Department captain who retired last week says lax administration contributed to a culture of unprofessional behavior among city firefighters.

Fire Capt. Ron Long, who retired July 4 after 30 years with the department, said administrators knew about breakdowns in discipline and unprofessional conduct but did little to stop the behavior.

"Staff officers sit behind this imagined veil of immunity," Long said Thursday. "When you go to them and they don't take action, what is a lowly captain going to do about it?"

Several reports of misconduct have surfaced since Sacramento fire officials launched an investigation into on-duty firefighters picking up women outside of downtown bars and attending a "Porn Star Costume Ball" at the Radisson Hotel on July 2.

Seven firefighters who attended the event were placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. One of the firefighters is facing criminal allegations of sexually assaulting a woman outside the hotel.

The Sacramento Police Department has asked Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully to consider an arrest warrant for the firefighter, said Supervising District Attorney Don Steed. The review allows the district attorney to decide if there is enough evidence to press charges, Steed said.

"I cannot comment on the particulars of any case we are investigating at this time," Deputy City Manager Richard Ramirez said.

On Monday, Long brought what he considered evidence of lax Fire Department management to Ramirez, including documents about two captains who reportedly drank beer on duty.

Ramirez, the City Hall official responsible for the Fire and Police departments, would not discuss specifics of Long's charges. But Ramirez admitted the 2-week-old investigation into Fire Department misconduct is expanding.

"We have learned that there are other individuals who are coming forward with new information with past practices," Ramirez said. "We are looking into all those cases."

Long waited until he left the Fire Department to speak out for fear of retaliation from other employees, he said.

Part of his evidence involved two captains reportedly drinking beer on the job and a supervising captain not reporting the incident to a battalion chief at a Fire Academy in Ione in November 2002. Long said one of the captains drove a fire vehicle home after drinking beer.

Long sent a letter to Assistant Fire Chief Jay Bowdler, who was in charge of the academy, on Jan. 17, 2003. The letter states the captain in charge said he had "taken care of the problem" and would "take the hit" for not notifying superior officers.

"We must keep in mind the mission of our Recruit Academy Staff is to project a professional image, one that is not questionable by our actions, or questionable by our image," Long wrote in the letter.

Long said after he reported the beer-drinking incident, one of the captains made "threatening remarks" to him, which Long also reported.

In a June 18 letter to Deputy Chief Rod Chong, Long wrote, "There has always been a 'Good Old Boy' syndrome surrounding our day-to-day operations in the Sacramento Fire Department."

The syndrome has been demonstrated "over and over again," Long said in the letter, with firefighters getting into trouble but keeping their jobs.

Among the incidents under investigation are those involving firefighters who allegedly disobeyed orders to stay out of Old Sacramento on New Year's Eve 2001, unless they were responding to an emergency call.

A firefighter, who is under investigation for the "Porn Star" ball incident, and his partner took an ambulance to Old Sacramento. Fire Department officials reported seeing them at a bar. The firefighters received an informal reprimand but were not formally disciplined, several sources familiar with the investigation confirmed.

Ramirez said Fire Chief Julius Cherry will address the issues turned up by the recent investigation into firefighters' conduct.

"Members of the Sacramento Fire Department are extremely angry over what has occurred," Ramirez said. "They are now coming forward with their new fire chief and opening up with concerns and issues that need to be addressed."

Ramirez said the chief, who's been in office for a month, will make recommendations to correct problems to City Manager Bob Thomas, who oversees the Fire Department.


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The Bee's Elizabeth Hume can be reached at (916) 321-1203 or ehume@sacbee.com.

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