January 8, 1998

Psychic Hotline Former Airway Heights Firefighter Admits Running Up A $1,300 Bill On Station Phone In/Around: Airway Heights

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Airway Heights police didn’t need to consult the spirit world to find out who ran up a $1,300 bill on a psychic hotline.

Plain, old-fashioned police work led them to a suspect who ‘fessed up when he was confronted last week, said City Administrator Mike Patterson.

The charges from a long-distance 900 number appeared on city phone bills in August and September. The calls were made from a telephone in the volunteer fire department.

“We were fairly shocked somebody would have that much interest in what a psychic was saying,” Patterson said.

Initially, no one in the department would admit to making the calls.

Chief Toby Coombs said firefighters have been allowed to make personal calls on weekends and evenings in the past, but only if they paid when the bill arrived.

He said the phone privileges had never been abused, and the incident left the firefighters feeling betrayed.

Patterson said, “The sad part is it’s really a black eye for the rest of the department.”

So Patterson put police to work.

Sgt. Art Krumm took the case and reviewed fire department duty logs from August and September. Then he compared the logs to the times the calls were placed.

Voila! The same volunteer was on duty when each of the calls was placed, Patterson said.

When the firefighter was confronted by police and city officials, he told them he did not make the calls. He explained that he allowed a girlfriend to visit him during his shifts, and she was the one who called the psychic.

But the suspect said he could not remember the girlfriend’s last name.

Word of the phone-call scandal spread through town, and one resident asked about the problem during a City Council meeting last fall.

City officials acknowledged the outstanding bill and assured residents they would recover the money.

The suspect, who was not named publicly, had been a newer member of the force. He has since been dismissed as part of a written agreement that he repay the bill, Patterson said.

In the meantime, the fire department has changed its phone service so firefighters have to punch in a personal code number if they want to make a long-distance call. That allows the city to keep track of who is placing calls to whom, Combs said.

Patterson said the city never had a policy allowing personal visits during duty hours. The department is now reviewing that policy, he said.

“We are confident the fire chief is taking action to be sure no similar acts occur again,” Patterson said. “It’s nice to see the remaining members of the department cleared.”

, DataTimes

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