Fire department findings delayed again

The completion of two city investigations into allegations of misconduct by fire department employees has been delayed for a second time since they were launched earlier this month.

Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan originally said he would release his findings Oct. 12 regarding two investigations he is hand­ling but later pushed the date to Oct. 17.

On Monday, however, Shanahan said they still had to be reviewed by City Administrator Fred Russell before they could be released.

Russell said he expects to release the results of the investigations Wednesday.

One investigation concerns allegations that Battalion Chief Tommy Willis has used his position and city resources to promote the 1-800 Board Up side business he manages, which secures homes after they are damaged in a fire.

The other probe is into an incident from January, in which firefighter Steven Jenne said he was injured because of broken protocol at a fire scene and a lack of follow-up investigation that was meant to cover it up.

Russell is also reviewing two additional investigations into the fire department launched Thursday, about the viewing of pornography by firefighters and improper use of city vehicles by the fire department’s upper ranks, four members of which turned in retirement letters last week.

Fire Chief Howard Willis announced Oct. 10 he would retire when his medical leave ended.

The next day, his two deputy chiefs, Mike Rogers and Carl Scott, and his brother, Tommy Willis, submitted letters of retirement, effective Nov. 1.

Chris James, who took over as acting chief Oct. 11, said he hopes to work through the cloud the investigations have placed on the department.

“I think once we can get past (the investigations), we can definitely start moving forward,” James said. “The negative press has really taken a toll on the employees. Once we can get through it, we will move faster to making it a happier place to come to work.”

Though the investigations have been trying, James said they were necessary to correct leadership shortfalls.

The department recently held its first staff meeting in two years. James has also made steps to correct the department’s consistent violation of policy by promoting 1-800 Board Up to residents at fire scenes.

Though some have called the allegations part of a coordinated attack by disgruntled fire department members, James said they identified things that needed to be addressed.

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