The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has a new internal affairs unit that allows the state fire department to handle discipline consistently for the first time.
The Sacramento Bee reviewed 95 recent disciplinary actions and found some serious cases, such as domestic violence and incidents of drinking on duty, as well as some silly ones.
Here's a look at some of the incidents as they are described in the disciplinary records. The Bee is identifying firefighters who the department recommended terminating. It is not naming firefighters who were punished for lesser misconduct.
A poop joke: A fire captain in El Dorado County wrote a poop joke on a receipt for a bulk purchase of toilet paper in September 2016. It read, “This purchase is to wipe my bung hole,” and it continued with several synonyms for the word “butt.” The receipt made its way to Cal Fire headquarters in Sacramento and on to the State Controller’s Office.
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Charge: Neglect of duty, discourteous treatment of a public employee
Penalty: Loss of one month’s pay
Memorial gone bad: Doyle Head, a fire captain with 23 years of experience, was disciplined because he didn't properly report a break he took that would have allowed him to drink alcohol at a May 2016 celebration honoring firefighters who participated in Lake County's deadly Valley Fire. On the night of the celebration, he also helped another firefighter leave an accident scene before reporting it to police, according to his notice of adverse action.
Charge: Neglect of duty, insubordination, dishonesty, disobedience, conduct that discredits an employer
Penalty: Head reached a settlement that required him to resign, according to the State Personnel Board. Two higher-ranking officers received discipline because they were not aware that firefighters at one of their stations had taken a break that left the region understaffed.
Christmas shopping on the state dime: Two Cal Fire employees allegedly misused state credit cards just before Christmas. One was an office worker with 10 years of experience who drew attention to herself by spending about $80 at a hardware store on Dec. 23, 2014. A review caught other questionable purchases in 2015. Karen Griffin reached a settlement with the department that allowed her to resign.
The other was Mariposa-based Capt. Clark Daly. Daly allegedly spent hundreds of dollars for his own groceries on Dec. 23, 2015, including a 25-pound turkey and a $35 device to season the bird. Over the next year, Daly did not properly account for about $3,500 in other purchases.
Charges: Neglect of duty, dishonesty, willful disobedience, misuse of state property
Bringing a gun to work: Redding-based fire engineer Richard Gallardo allegedly showed off a gun he brought to work on Aug. 31, 2017. The engineer was already in hot water with the department when he flashed the weapon to two colleagues. He had lost 10 percent of his pay for six months that year for wasting time on duty. He has an appeal pending at the State Personnel Board.
Charge: Willful disobedience, neglect of duty, insubordination, conduct that discredits his employer
Family stress: A San Diego-based fire engineer refused to report to a mandatory overtime assignment. When a supervisor pressed him, the engineer wrote in a text message, "I lost my wife for this job. I'm not going to lose my kid, too."
Charge: Insubordination, willful disobedience, failure of good behavior outside of duty hours.
Penalty: One week suspension
Brawling off duty: Tim Gordon, a Riverside County-based fire captain planned a big night in San Diego to celebrate his daughter’s 21st birthday in May 2016. Their party got out of hand when a bouncer at a bar in the Gaslamp Quarter told the dad, a 12-year Cal Fire veteran, that he was creating a fire hazard by blocking an aisle. The captain replied that he was a firefighter and the bar would not have a problem. Their argument escalated and included shoving. The San Diego County district attorney did not prosecute him.
Charge: Conduct that discredits his employer, dishonesty, neglect of duty.
Penalty: Dismissal. Gordon later returned to work with a demotion.
Overnight visitor: Ryan Martel, a 17-year fire captain, was punished for allowing a girlfriend to stay overnight at his fire station and allegedly allowing family and friends to ride along with his crew on calls. The captain also was punished for failing to report to an assignment. Investigators believed he tried to mislead them. Cal Fire moved to dismiss him in May 2017.
Charges: Neglect of duty, dishonest, insubordination, conduct that discredits his employer.
Talking trash: Disrespecting higher-ranking officers can land Cal Fire fighters in the dog house. One captain with 22 years of experience was punished for undermining a new battalion chief by showing up late to meetings, disrupting at least one meeting by mumbling and rolling his eyes and gossiping about supervisors. Another captain with 30 years of experience in the department disparaged a battalion chief on an open radio so his remarks were heard from his station in Santa Cruz County “as far as Fresno County.”
Charges: Insubordination, neglect of duty, willful disobedience
Penalty: The captain with the hot microphone had a two-week suspension with no pay. The captain who undermined his battalion chief was demoted to engineer.
Substance abuse: Cal Fire is taking an especially hard line on firefighters who are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or who are caught buying narcotics. It has dismissed multiple firefighters who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
He forgot his helmet: A 28-year Cal Fire veteran was the first on scene at a February 2017 house fire in Jackson. The battalion chief ran into the building before donning his protective jacket, helmet, pants, hood and gloves. When backup arrived, the chief advised his teammates that they didn’t need the gear, either.
Charge: Inefficiency, dishonesty, inexcusable neglect of duty
Penalty: 5 percent pay reduction for six months
Too nice to inmates: A water and sewer plant operator in Humboldt County had a habit of letting prison inmates have gum, candy and energy drinks while they worked on outdoor assignments for Cal Fire. He also bought them hamburgers from time to time. Cal Fire opened an investigation into him in November 2016.
Charge: Neglect of duty, insubordination, dishonesty, willful disobedience
Penalty: 10 percent pay reduction for 12 months
This article was updated on Tuesday, May 29 to reflect that Capt. Tim Gordon returned to work.