I really have enormous sympathy and compassion for the 13 firefighters indicted in the Cleveland scandal. Clearly, some of them got caught up in a bad system and now it looks like they will likely pay a big price (click here for the details). The only way I can see a system like this thriving for so long is that people above the grade of firefighter had knowledge. How else does a firefighter not report to work for more than four years, pay someone to take his place and, until recently, get away with it?
But some aren’t going to like what else I have to say about this mess. I apologize ahead of time for getting on my soap box and preaching, but here goes.
There are quite a few comments on Facebook and elsewhere from firefighters defending the indefensible. No, it’s not okay to subcontract out your job as a firefighter and it’s not okay to receive that money and not pay taxes. And it probably isn’t okay to be earning credit toward your pension when you don’t bother to show up to do your job. What these firefighters are being charged with is a lot more than simple shift swapping and the public isn’t going to have any sympathy for you.
Firefighters often rightfully point out the citizens don’t understand their job. But defending this blindly has me thinking, in this case, too many firefighters don’t understand the rest of the world and how it looks to the people who pay their salaries. Step back from it for a moment and pretend you are the average taxpayer who knows nothing about the fire service. Do you get it?
This should be a wake-up call to anywhere else in the country that has similar practices occurring. Actually that wake-up call should have happened with the first news coverage of this, well before the indictments.
As I’ve pointed out numerous times in recent years, there has been a clear pattern to these stories that has coincided with the nation’s economic woes. I have seen the same stories in city after city. It often starts with a politician focusing on reining in firefighter overtime and benefits and leaking his or her findings to a reporter. Then, other somewhat related issues and stories are suddenly “uncovered”. And there is always that one case, like the guy away from the job for years in Cleveland, that is so out there, that it fuels outrage in the community.
My warning when I first discussed this pattern was to clean it up before it becomes news about your fire department. There will be people watching what happens in Cleveland. If you have similar issues in your department, clean it up now before someone makes a criminal case out of it.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted 13 Cleveland firefighters Wednesday, accusing them of illegally paying co-workers to cover most of their shifts — freeing them to work other full-time jobs or run their own companies while continuing to collect salaries and benefits from the city.
The indictments, which include counts of theft in office and soliciting or receiving improper compensation, might mark the first time firefighters anywhere in the country have faced felony charges for the illegal practice, commonly known as “caddying.”
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said in a news release that the firefighters each failed to work at least 2,000 hours — the equivalent of about one year — of their scheduled time. The most egregious case involved firefighter Calvin Robinson, who had colleagues work 8,456 hours on his behalf. That amounts to about 4 1/2 years, according to the release.
The following individuals were included in today’s indictment:
Calvin Robinson, 52, of Cleveland
Kevin Dever, 42, of Cleveland
Bernard Fronhapple, 51, of Rocky River
Barry Kifus, 40, of Painesville
Kevin P. Kelly, 52, of Olmsted Falls
James Oleksiak, 44, of Cleveland
Robert Graham, 50, of Lakewood
Michael Milano, 53, of Broadview Heights
Nicholas Rucella, 49, of Cleveland
Gary McNamara, 48, of Bay Village
Peter Corso, 47, of Concord
Thomas Jurcisin, 51, of Cleveland
Daniel Losteiner, 45, of Cleveland
Wednesday night, this statement was released by the Cleveland Department of Public Safety:
“Given that this is now a matter before the court, the City of Cleveland will not comment on the pending cases regarding the 13 firefighters indicted today by the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury.”
“These firefighters will be immediately relieved of duty. An administrative pre-disciplinary hearing will be scheduled, at which time it is expected the firefighters will be suspended without pay pending adjudication of the charges in accordance with established city policy.”
“Chief of Fire Daryl McGinnis will adjust his staffing to ensure that the quality and timeliness of service by the Division to the community is not impacted.”
In response to the indictments, the Association of Cleveland Firefighters’ Local 93 released this statement:
“The Association of Cleveland Fire Fighters has become aware of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s review of an audit regarding the Cleveland Fire Department.”
“As the legal process moves forward, we expect to gain a greater understanding of all the circumstances in this matter. We have been and will continue to represent our members in all matters related to the terms and conditions of their employment. As always, Cleveland Fire Fighters remain united and committed to protecting the lives and property.”
Despite the fact that they were not logging hours with the Cleveland Division of Fire, the workers were still getting their yearly salary, insurance benefits, pension, clothing allowance and sick time.
“The public’s trust was violated. In addition to not working and receiving full pay, these individuals abused the system and collected retirement, vacation, medical and other benefits,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty in a news release. They caused other firefighters to work multiple days without rest. Fatigued firefighters put the safety of the people who are in danger at risk as well as their fellow firefighters.”
These investigations uncovered the abuse of firefighters paying others to do their job for them which allowed each of these defendants to have a second full time job and earn two separate incomes. Shift trading is allowed under strict conditions.
Firefighters are permitted to trade one shift for another with approval by a supervisor who assures that the firefighter is not working multiple continuous shifts and is physically capable of performing under stress. By city rule, all shifts must be paid back within one year by re-working that shift. A firefighter cannot hire out his job or sell shifts as these defendants did.
These firefighters disregarded the rules by paying someone else tax-free cash under the table to do their work for them while they accumulated all the job benefits as if they had worked that year themselves.
Firefighters rescued one man off the second-story roof of a filter manufacturing plant after a fire erupted Monday afternoon.
More than 25 people evacuated Metchem Inc., a manufacturer of purifying filters and other pollution-control devices in the 700 block of East 82nd Street.
The fire was reported at 1:45 p.m. by an employee who noticed flames coming through the second-floor ceiling of the white brick building. He yelled, "Fire," and the building was quickly evacuated, according to Cleveland fire officials.
Deal reached in Deale blown engine controversy: Glenn Usdin provided some interesting insight a few weeks ago on blown engines during pump testing after a 1991 pumper owned by the Deale (MD) VFD suffered such a fate while in the hands of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department shop. Deale and the county went back and forth for a while over who was financially responsible in this case. Now an economical solution has been found. FireTruckBlog.com has the story. Click here.
Threats & other verbal attacks are now a way of life for Clark County, Nevada firefighters: The long and nasty battle over compensation for firefighters in Clark County that resulted in a probe of sick leave abuse has taken its toll. Scott Wyland in the Las Vegas Review-Journal spent time with firefighters, including some named in the probe, and describes the less than warm reception firefighters are often receiving. Here’s the article.
More image problems as the Bee stings Sac Metro FD: An editorial in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday has the title “Sac Metro salaries are a disgrace”. Overtime seems to be responsible for the high salaries. And the Bee thinks this is the problem – “Either by contract or policy, set staffing levels are maintained. If a firefighter calls in sick, another is called in on overtime. Generous overtime boosts already generous salaries.” The Bee fails to discuss or seem to care why those staffing levels are in place. Then there is this shocker – “It’s worth noting that a part of the firefighter’s work day is spent sleeping, watching TV, cooking or relaxing in the firehouse.” It should also be noted the chief of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, Bill Sponable, announced his resignation on Friday citing the current economic woes. Click here to read the editorial.
Fireworks cache takes out home: Firegeezer has the story from Blue Springs, Kansas of a man handling some of the large amount of fireworks he stored in his home. The Fourth of July came very early and the man is lucky he was left with only minor injuries. The house is a different story. Click here for the story.
Firefighters dressing in drag, showing their butts & dancing with college girls, all in the name of charity: Of course that headline can only mean one thing. Cincinnati firefighters are back in Fort Myers Beach, Florida for spring break. News-Press.com’s Chris Umpierre looks at this 28-year tradition that has on occasion raised some eyebrows. The picture to the right is by Amanda Inscore, News-Press.com. Click here for the story.
IAFF Local 93 president Tom Lally told Cleveland’s Safety Committee that the first EMS transport unit to arrive after three firefighters were struck on I-480 on Sunday would not immediately take the most seriously injured firefighter to the hospital. Instead the ambulance crew set up a command post. Two-years-ago the city decided that EMS should have command at such incidents.
Lally told the safety committee the change means that the first EMS ambulance on the scene of a multi-injury crash does not have to transport any victims, but instead takes over incident command and triage until a second EMS unit arrives.
Lally called the change a “flawed policy” and said there was a dispute between fire fighters telling EMS to transport the most seriously hurt fire fighter at the scene instead of waiting for the second ambulance.
A firefighter ended up driving another injured firefighter to the hospital.
The city has been talking for years about merging EMS and the fire department, which has created some disagreements over policy. Later on Wednesday, Safety Director Marty Flask asked the fire chief and the EMS director for an investigation into what happened on I-480 and see if a policy change is needed.
A story that is more than just a drunk guy behind the steering wheel of an out-of-service fire engine: The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office says the driver of the fire engine was a volunteer firefighter with the Hamilton VFD who forced a deputy to head for a ditch early Saturday morning to avoid the speeding rig. But it is the passengers that make this story even more interesting. They are all volunteers in Loudoun County (or were, since the driver and two of them have since resigned). They include a 19-year-old woman, an off-duty Leesburg cop and two men who are in positions of authority in the county fire service. According to news reports all had been drinking. Loudoun County Fire-Rescue Chief W. Keith Brower, Jr. and Fire-Rescue Commission Chair Douglas G. Rambo briefed reporters on the unpleasant details yesterday afternoon. Here is our coverage from Sunday.
Born from RIT: I asked a new STATter911.com advertiser to write a guest column on his interesting product. Greg Turnell, a lieutenant in DC, invented TURK, a cart that has a number of applications, but was built to help firefighters transport all the required RIT gear to the fireground without killing yourself. Clck here to learn more.
Antique of the Week, rig hit in Massachusetts, Ohio rollover & a lot of news: Glenn Usdin goes back almost 75 years for the rig featured in the video for the latest Antique of the Week. Click here. Of course there is lots more apparatus news from FireTruckBlog.com.
Three Cleveland firefighters struck, man arrested: It happened Sunday morning on I-480 and two of the firefighters remain hospitalized. According to WKYC-TV, ”one firefighter suffered a lacerated kidney and rib injuries. The other fireman has significant lower body injuries and underwent surgery Sunday afternoon.” Here’s more.
A bad bill or just bad reporting?: I don’t know the answer for sure, but my hunch is a politician’s exaggeration of the problem and the failure to read the bill by reporters has people believing they are going to ban all photography within 500 feet of a crash scene in Illinois. I could be totally wrong, but my read from far away shows it is nothing of the sort. Check it out and tell me what you think.
Firefighter spots burglary in progress: A firefighter watched as a man broke into a store across the street from a firehouse in Hooksett, New Hampshire. The firefighter’s call to police brought a quick arrest of a burglar. Here’s the story.
Chicago firefighter in classic photo retires: It is a photo of more than 30-years-ago that many of you will recognize. It shows Firefighter John Steinmetz, just two years on the job in Chicago, holding the body of a girl in the fourth floor window of a burning apartment building trying to get help. Yesterday Captain John Steinmetz was honored as he arrived for his final shift before retiring. Read the story.
Someone who gets it: If your idea of handling the news media at a fire or other emergency is to fill in the blanks of some script (At 3:30 PM our units arrived at 250 Main Street for a reported dwelling fire … ) you need to see this. In Buffalo, New York, Division Chief Scott Barry uses his moments in front of the cameras following a fire where two firefighters were hurt to tell a story and educate the public (and reporters) on the workings of his department. To me, this is effective communications and a great example for all of us. Take a look.
The welcoming committee: It says “Welcome to Baltimore”, but the message from the IAFF & FOP is a rather pointed one. Check it out.
What the tow truck operator spotted that the firefighters didn’t: This seems to happen once a year somewhere in the country. In Cleveland, Ohio firefighters missed the body in a burned out vehicle. Firegeezer has the story.
More than just pot growing accusations against FDNY member: The New York Daily News reports prosecutors claim that Firefighter Patrick Murray is a member of a gang known as “The Master Race”. Murray which is responsible for grow houses throughout Queens. His lawyer tells the paper, “He is not a member of any organization except the Fire Department of New York City.” Read the story.
Deadly moment captured on video: If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video from Iran where a man was rolling off some video of a fire 10 days ago at a petrochemical plant when it suddenly exploded. Four people were killed. Click here.
Dave the video killer strikes again: Here is my advice for the day. If you are going to put your fire or other videos on YouTube, look at the clips with the same critical eye everyone else will BEFORE you hit the upload button. Think ahead a bit and project how you are going to defend any potentially controversial items on the video when the fire service community sees it on STATter911 or some other forum. If you are truly comfortable with the good, bad and the ugly that is on there then by all means post it. We know no fireground is perfect and there is always something to learn. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to boldly put the videos out there and then have to take them down a day later because some people pointed out the obvious. My lecture is over (what a pompous pain this guy has become since he quit the reporter job). If you are wondering what the hell I am talking about click here and read the comments.
A social media dos and don’ts theme show: Similar to my advice above, when you are writing nasty things on Facebook about someone you work with or anything to do with your business you might want to think how this will play when your boss sees it. A woman who USED TO work for an ambulance service in New Zealand can now explain this concept better than I can. Here’s the story.
A payroll mess in Birmingham, Alabama: The way the mayor tells it police and firefighters are supposed to make the same annual wage but not the same hourly rate. Somehow that didn’t translate into practice and the council has given orders to reduce the salary of firefighters. It is also being linked to a federal case involving the city’s payroll computer. Firefighters are threatening legal action of their own. Check it out.
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UPDATED – Close call in Fairfax County, VA at scene of now double fatal fire: (Click here for slideshow from fire.) PIO Dan Schmidt confirms the bodies of two men were found inside a burning home on Heming Avenue in North Springfield this morning. Earlier three firefighters from Station 422 ran into trouble when the kitchen floor began collapsing around them. Other firefighters assisted them in getting out safely. Schmidt says one firefighter has been hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. All firefighters were accounted for. The fire was reported around 6:40 AM. We will have more later, including video.
Dead, not dead: Firefighters in Prince George’s County, Maryland thought they were doing body recovery early Sunday morning on I-95. The “body” in the burned out car started breathing and things quickly reverted to a rescue operation. We have the details, fireground audio, and a timeline. Click here for our coverage.
More PGFD news – Shake-up at the top: In November, Chief Eugene Jones said about Lt. Colonel Victor Stagnaro, “You are growing into the leader I always believed you had the capacity for” as he gave the 24-year veteran “a rare and prestigious” department award. Yesterday, Chief Jones gave Stagnaro something else: his walking papers. According to Chief Jones, Stagnaro “indicated his intent to retire”. But numerous other sources familiar with what happened at the Largo Government Center tell STATter911.com the chief’s executive officer presented Stagnaro with a letter telling him his last day is February 12. Click here for more on this story.
Close Call #1: This is the "before" picture a neighbor snapped just prior to two firefighters falling through the roof of this burning Phoenix home on Monday. The firefighters were not injured. Police say the house was set on fire by an 18-year-old who had assaulted his parents. Click the image to see more pictures and watch the story.
NEW – Virginia Task Force 1 heading home Thursday: That’s the plan today for the return of the urban search and rescue team from Northern Virginia. They have been in Haiti for two weeks and are now assisting with humanitarian efforts after helping to rescue 16 people who were trapped in the rubble of the earthquake.
More from Memphis: A TV station is into its second week of reports on the Memphis Fire Department. WLMT-TV has been looking at the department’s hiring practices, the number of firefighters who have been arrested and allegations of discrimination over who gets to keep their job and who doesn’t. The latest installment is here. Click here to see what you missed earlier.
New talk of major FDNY cuts: Firehouses and firefighters are again being discussed for possible cuts as mayor’s staff and the new fire commissioner meet on budget issues. Read more.
911 system in DC getting scrutiny after gun is pulled on council member: A fire truck was the first on the scene to assist Council member Yvette Alexander last week when she interupted an armed robbery. There are questions about the accurate relay of information and the timeliness of the response. Read more.
Close Call #2: Three firefighters inside as explosion lifts roof off home during fire in Wells, Minnesota. The chief says he was blown 3-feet out of a door. The firefighters weren't hurt. Click the picture by Brie Cohen for details and more pictures from the Albert Lea Tribune.
Former Columbus, Ohio firefighter who killed dogs walks out of hearing because of TV camera: The latest on David Santuomo, who left the two dead dogs in a dumpster behind a firehouse in December, 2008, is that the Civil Service Commission dismissed the appeal of his firing because the former firefighter wasn’t present. News reports indicate Santuomo got up and left when he saw the camera being set up. You may recall Santuomo executed the dogs because he didn’t want to pay kennel fees while on vacation. Read more.
LAFD defends dog rescue: The Los Angeles Fire Department stands by the decision to commit resources to last Friday’s dog rescue in the L.A. River that left a firefighter with dog bites. Read more. Earlier coverage here and here.
Mayor is shocked: Paramus, New Jersey Mayor James Tedesco is also a volunteer firefighter. Responding on a call for a downed power line, the firefighting mayor touched a fence that had come in contact with the wire. He is okay. Read more.
House fire in New Jersey: This is from yesterday in Oradell in Bergen County.
Stick this in your stocking – layoff notices go out two days before Christmas: Thirty-eight firefighters are among 100 in public safety who were sent layoff notices yesterday from the city of Cleveland, Ohio. The mayor says force reductions are planned for January 11 if a four-percent pay cut isn’t agreed to by the unions. There would also be reductions in rank for supervisory personnel. Read the details.
Firetruck rollover in France: Firegeezer has the picture and story over a crash that killed one firefighter and injured two others. Click here.
An orange jumpsuit may be in your future: I wonder if the owners of an Oakland, California fortune cookie company left behind that message after vacating the building that used to house the business. It seems a marijuana grow operation took over the Chinatown spot. A fire in the building brought the discovery. Here are some details.
Firefighters didn’t need a fortune cookie to help make this discovery: A fire in a mobile home brought a little something extra. Just outside firefighters found what is being described as the first still discovered in Etowah County, Alabama in more than a decade. Read more.
Replacement for chief who quit over layoffs: Remember the story in Saratoga Springs, New York where both the police and fire chief announced their retirements over concerns about safety following budget cuts? Fire Chief Robert Cogan’s last day is Friday and his replacement, Bob Williams, is a third generation firefighter whose father was once chief of the department. Read the details.
Click the image from KLAS-TV in Las Vegas to watch the station's live coverage of a large fire in an apartment complex yesterday morning.