A sexual harassment allegation against a Casper Fire-EMS Department captain, coupled with the mishandling of the investigation by a battalion chief, would ordinarily result in a headline announcing the filing of a lawsuit. The Casper Star Tribune, and more precisely reporters Sofia Saric and Mary Steurer, instead embarked on real journalism… old school journalism.
They set out to better understand what contributed to the problem within Casper Fire-EMS. In doing so they discovered that Casper is not alone in struggling with how fire departments handle allegations of misconduct. The unusually in-depth article explains the circumstances that led to a captain resigning, a battalion chief being demoted, and a deputy chief being terminated. I won’t repeat the facts here. Take the time to read the article.
Among the important issues identified is the lack of preparedness of many fire departments when it comes to dealing with HR problems, including the handling of investigations. Sofia and Mary acknowledge that a difference of opinion exists on whether firefighters can/should investigate firefighters, as well what I think is the more important corollary: whether non-firefighters (folks who have no understanding of our culture – don’t know a Halligan from K-tool, an air tank from an oxygen cylinder) can/should investigate firefighters.
When interviewed for the story I spent almost 45-minutes speaking with Mary. During the course of a typical week, I speak to several reporters. Often they have an agenda and are just looking for a soundbite to add to the pre-determined conclusion they plan to make. I did not get that sense from Mary and the article shows it. Here is the link to the story.