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Firefighter rules in question

Sacramento city firefighters recently received new rules and regulations prohibiting sex on duty, but fire officials say the new rule cannot be used to discipline four firefighters accused of participating in group sex in a fire station last year.

Instead, they will have to apply an older rule in the conduct book that states firefighters "be governed by ordinary and reasonable rules" and that they do not bring "discredit" upon the department.

Chief Julius "Joe" Cherry said he heard of at least three incidents of group sex by Station 12 firefighters just two days after firefighters received the new rules and regulations manual, revised for the first time since 1972.

But city or fire officials don't seem to know whether having consensual sex on duty is a firing offense under the old rules.

"I don't think so, but I honestly don't know," said Brian Rice, president of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522. "However, I can't get beyond applying common sense. It shouldn't happen."

Capt. Thomas De Bartoli and firefighters Krista Duval, Doug Boan and Robby Cowen have been on paid administrative leave since Friday, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Duval could not be reached for comment, and De Bartoli, Boan and Cowen refused comment.

Two of the alleged sexual encounters occurred after on-duty firefighters attended a Porn Star Costume Ball on July 2, which launched the largest investigation into misconduct in the department's 131-year history.

It led to 24 firefighters being disciplined. Only two captains were fired for drinking on duty, picking up women in fire engines and attending inappropriate events.

Now city officials are questioning if the punishment was harsh enough to prevent further indiscretions.

"Obviously, the punishments that have been meted out didn't have a strong enough signal," said Councilman Steve Cohn. "Stricter punishments appear to be needed to send the right signal."

But union officials fear that the four firefighters from Station 12 may be fired, just to be held up as examples, and not given their due-process rights.

"It's a political climate right now," Rice said. "If we wouldn't have had the other incidents, we may not be dealing the same way with this situation now."

On Oct. 12, Cherry announced at a press conference the investigation had led to nine terminations and 15 lesser disciplines. Two days later, however, city and fire officials signed "last chance" contracts reinstating five of the nine. Apparatus operator Charles D. Clayborne and firefighters Scott Singleton, Patrick Willard, Troy Doehrer and Anthony Ramirez returned to work after 240 hours off without pay.

Firefighters Thomas Mitchell and Dan Kennedy resigned in lieu of termination. Capt. Chris Wade continues to fight his termination at the city level. Capt. Steve Conti received his final termination letter from the city Friday. He can appeal the discipline through the civil service process, fire officials said.

Councilman Rob Fong, who took office after this summer's investigation was completed, said the Fire Department needs to "police itself and clean up its act." He added the city needs to be cautious in protecting individual rights when handling the recent sexual allegations.

"I think it's really easy to be mad, but our job is to make sure we do things the right way, especially when meting out discipline," Fong said.

Since the porn star ball incident, the Fire Department has changed the way it monitors itself.

A task force was created to review the department's policies and procedures. The Office of Police Accountability was expanded to oversee both the fire and police departments, becoming the Office of Public Safety Accountability. The Fire Department also is creating a internal affairs and professional standards unit.

In addition, the 42-page 1972 rules and regulations were updated and streamlined, reviewed by the task force and then approved by the City Council, said Deputy Fire Chief Rich McKinney.

"It's an incremental process in trying to change the way we look at ourselves, the way we behave and do our service," Deputy City Manger Richard Ramirez said.

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