For the second time in three years, Cal Fire is cracking down on alcohol consumption at its training academy in Amador County.
This time, it’s disciplining 14 firefighters who were supposed to stay sober during their six weeks of training at the Cal Fire Academy in Ione.
Cal Fire Deputy Director Michael Mohler announced the discipline on Thursday. It stemmed from a report the academy received in September about several firefighters allegedly drinking alcohol outside of the campus.
Mohler said the department’s investigation is not yet complete, but it’s moving forward with disciplinary actions that range from warning letters to demotions and termination.
Nine of them so far have been terminated, said Tim Edwards, the rank and file director for the union that represents Cal Fire firefighters. Those firefighters were limited-term employees who do not have the full civil service protections of permanent, year-round firefighters.
“The department is taking this seriously and rightfully so these days,” Edwards said. “We can’t fault them for that. It’s unfortunate this particular incident had to occur again.”
The candidates caught in the recent crackdown were in an engineer training program, Mohler said.
The announcement echoed a 2015 scandal at the academy in which the California Highway Patrol uncovered widespread drinking, cheating and sex-related misconduct at the academy. That investigation led Cal Fire to discipline or terminate 15 employees.
It also led Cal Fire and Gov. Jerry Brown to create a professional standards program for the department that incorporated internal affairs investigators and new training on conduct.
“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Mohler said. Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott is “very disappointed, but he’s pleased with the actions of the training staff at the academy,” Mohler said.
Promotion candidates attend daytime training events but can leave the facility for meals or errands. They’re considered on-call and are being paid when they’re not training, and are expected to avoid alcohol.
“The students are advised of that,” Mohler said. “Their first two days are orientation, which explains the expectations. Unfortunately, they were violated.”