Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer responded Tuesday to allegations of bullying, sexual harassment and hazing within the department that were exposed recently in a lengthy investigative report.
“We take these allegations very seriously, that’s why we launched a thorough and complete investigative process which has not yet been completed,” he said in a written statement. “As a city, we have taken steps to make sure people have multiple ways to report concerns about work place behavior and are comfortable coming forward with those concerns.”
The details of that 40-page report, completed by the city’s human resources department, were reported by KXLY News. According to the television station, the report reveals accusations of an “unhealthy atmosphere for probationary employees” at the department’s Fire Station 2 at 1001 E. North Foothills Drive near Gonzaga Prep.
Probationary employees are new hires or promoted employees who are still in an evaluation period before their new position is finalized.
The human resources department began investigating the claims in February, when it interviewed dozens of fire department employees. They described a “hazing-type environment” where some employees were given inappropriate or demeaning nicknames, and others experienced unwanted sexual comments.
One fire lieutenant, according to KXLY, alleged there was a pattern of abuse going back three to five years.
The report ends with recommendations moving forward, including staffing changes within the station and hiring a third-party consultant to help improve the culture within the organization, KXLY reported. Five firefighters could be terminated, suspended or demoted.
Schaeffer said once the investigation is complete, disciplinary action will be taken.
“The actions and behavior outlined in this report will not be tolerated,” he said.
Randy Marler, president of the Spokane Firefighters Union, said through a written statement the union was taking the allegations seriously. He said the union also has plans to conduct its own investigation.
“In order to help ensure a fair and balanced process for the members being accused, the Union will be conducting its own investigation into these allegations,” he wrote. “In the meantime, the Union stands by its members and believes in their innocence and right to due process.”
When reached by phone, City Council President Ben Stuckart and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, chairwoman of the Public Safety & Community Health Committee,
“I’d be speaking on a position of ignorance,” Stuckart said.
Marler said some union members and alleged victims of the harassment were also were provided a report last week. A redacted report was not available to the public by the time the KXLY story was published.
City spokesman Brian Coddington said the city will release the report later this week.