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Chief clamps down on firefighter conduct

Sacramento Fire Chief Joe Cherry pointed out the obvious to the city's 540-plus firefighters: Stay away from bars and nightclubs unless responding to emergencies or legitimate reports of safety code violations.

The directive was sent Tuesday as Fire Department, police and city officials investigated reports that firefighters have been cruising bars and nightclubs in hopes of picking up women and giving "joy rides" to bar patrons on firefighting vehicles.

The order came three days after crews in two fire vehicles joined a party called the "Porn Star Costume Ball" at the Radisson Hotel. A woman at the party told police that night that she was sexually assaulted by a firefighter on one of the firetrucks. A separate criminal investigation is under way.

Six firefighters, including one captain, from Station 20 in North Sacramento have been placed on paid administrative leave stemming from attendance at the "Porn Star" event Friday night. A seventh firefighter, not assigned to Station 20, also is on paid leave, but fire officials are vague about his role in the incident. The department has released no names of firefighters involved.

"I am extremely disappointed at the behavior of a small group of our firefighters," Cherry said Wednesday. "I am shocked just like the community is shocked, but I really believe the vast majority of our people are honest, hardworking professionals and do not participate in this type of behavior."

Cherry, a veteran firefighter who worked his way up the ranks before being sworn in as chief a month ago, said his orders would clarify department policy regarding giving rides on fire engines and attending public events without permission.

"We have a policy that says, 'When you are out in the public you are supposed to behave appropriately,' " Cherry said.

Firefighters frequently attend public events within guidelines, he said. The guidelines instruct crews to attend events only in their district; stay together; and not miss any 911 calls.

Cherry said crews are not supposed to go to nightclubs, bars or parties unless they have received a complaint of overcrowding or are responding to a 911 call. He said he was dismayed by the apparent presence of two vehicles and seven firefighters at the "Porn Star" event.

"There is no justification for what those people did," he said. "As soon as someone said this is a porn party they should have run so fast it would make their heads swim."

James Mondragon, owner of Dub Star Universal, which organized the costume ball, has said it did not involve any stripping or sexual acts. He estimated that half of 1,800 guests dressed in "porn star" costumes.

A separate Fire Department investigation is looking into reports that firefighters from Station 6 in Oak Park and Station 1 downtown gave rides to women they picked up outside the Empire dance club on R Street and the Zebra Club bar on 19th Street.

Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, whose district includes the area covered by Station 6, was vocal two years ago about her disappointment in the firefighters involved in an alleged sexual harassment of a female firefighter at the station.

She said Wednesday that she was aware of the new investigation into misconduct by firefighters at Station 6, but also said she could not comment.

Bob Simpson, the owner of Empire, Sidelines, 815 L Street, Aqua and clubs in Las Vegas and San Jose, said he had never witnessed any inappropriate behavior by Sacramento fire personnel.

"The Fire Department is very, very professional, and I have a hard time believing this allegation," he said Wednesday.

Cherry's new directive states that on-duty firefighters cannot attend unscheduled public events without the permission of the battalion chief who oversees their station. It says firefighters may not give rides to the public without filling out paperwork approved by a battalion chief. And it requires that visitors to the fire station be logged in at the station.

Brian Rice, president of Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522, said Wednesday that he believes Cherry's leadership skills and direction will effect necessary changes in the minds of the men and women he leads.

"I blame the people involved for an extreme lack of judgment," Rice said. "We have to be responsible adults, firefighters and captains."

Cherry called the directive one step in managing the problem.

"We are continuing to evaluate our processes," he said. "First, you have to know what the problem is and how widespread it is."


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

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