Sonora, CA — Following what CAL Fire officials describe as a lengthy, intense investigation that began last fall, several of its personnel have been fired or placed on suspension.
According to CAL Fire spokesperson Michael Mohler, the investigation instigated back in September stemmed from a complaint received by the CAL Fire training center in Ione of several CAL Fire employees drinking in a Jackson bar.
Once training center staff received that information, Mohler says the matter was turned over to CAL Fire’s Professional Standards Program, which launched a probe. It turned out that some employees had indeed been drinking while on duty and that a few of them had done so not just that night but on multiple occasions.
Mohler notes, “We do have engines at the academy available for response…there is definitely an expectation that we hold our employees to that you are an emergency responder and we will not tolerate putting fellow employees in danger and ultimately the public.”
Offenders Ranged From Vets To Cadets
Several factors were considered ahead of levying punishment, he shares. “Those who were terminated were drinking on duty and not truthful about it despite plentiful evidence,” he explains, adding that a range of variables determined how the suspensions were assigned. The employees ranged from long-timers at the academy to get new training to new hires, according to Mohler.
“I can tell you that CAL Fire has a zero tolerance policy [for on-duty drinking], that the employees had been briefed at the academy on expectations and unfortunately some…made the wrong decision that ultimately led to the termination of 17 and suspension of 12 personnel,” he continues.
While he did not have details as to whether any of the staff had been assigned to CAL Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, Mohler emphasizes that CAL Fire had planned with all the affected units in advance to ensure that they would remain at normal response levels. He states that those terminated will have the opportunity to appeal; suspensions, when served, must be completed under specific requirements, resulting in an initial return to work under a probationary status.
In closing, Mohler says that the investigation has weighed heavily on the agency. With close to 8,000 employees, he stresses that less than one percent make it to the point of a termination or suspension following an investigation. The takeaway for the community, he emphasizes is that his agency has processes in place to deal with these kinds of things and once they occur they are handled in a move-forward fashion. After all, he maintains, “We don’t have an opportunity to deliver 50 percent performance — we have to be at 110 percent all the time and this [investigation result] does not represent CAL Fire.”