Las Vegas Fire Sex Scandal Should Not Be A Surprise

A sex scandal in the Las Vegas Fire Department has Fire Chief William McDonald calling for security cameras to be installed in all city fire stations. A former AMR employee, EMT Mallissa Barthule, told reporters that she had sex more than 50 times with seven different firefighters inside 13 different fire stations.

Dave Statter has much more on this one, so there is no need to repeat it all here. Click here for Dave’s take.

While any scandal is embarrassing and hurtful to the reputations of the department, its leadership, and the men and women in the department, fire department sex scandals should not come as a surprise to anyone.

For those who have been through Managing Disciplinary Challenges in the Fire Service – we know that sexual misconduct is the most common disciplinary challenge that fire service leaders will have to deal with. Sex scandals occur more frequently than those involving drugs, sick leave/overtime abuse, cheating on exams, or even alcohol.

Here are the top 10 in terms of frequency:

  1. Sexual misconduct
  2. Alcohol
  3. Larceny/Embezzlement from the organization (Union & Volunteer)
  4. Social media
  5. Arson (Volunteer)
  6. Drugs/Theft
  7. Digital imagery
  8. Hazing pranks
  9. Sick leave/pension/OT abuse
  10. Cheating scandals

Chief McDonald is taking decisive action on the problem. Granted, cameras alone will not solve the problem, but greater accountability by officers will. As we discuss in class, the solution to problems like this is to strategize on a way to increase the likelihood of folks getting caught. Research has shown that people are more likely to conform their behavior to the rules in response to an increased likelihood of getting caught as opposed to a fear of increased penalties. Cameras serve that purpose by increasing the likelihood that violators will be caught.

For those who think the Las Vegas scandal could never happen in their department, remember the famous quote attributable to Captain Edward J. Smith, of the RMS Titanic:

When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.

Complacency… does more than kill…

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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