A battalion fire chief whofound a firefighter not guilty on charges related to the discovery of beer in a U Street Northwest fire station was transferred in what he saysis retaliation for going against the wishes of the D.C. fire chief.
“His actions are a classic example of workplace bullying,” D.C. Battalion Fire Chief Kevin Sloan, a 27-year veteran of the department, said of his transfer to a 9-to-5 desk job by Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. “It’s not ethical, it’s not moral. It’s retaliatory action.”
Chief Sloan said his “punitive” transfer mirrors the scenario that unfolded after another battalion chief, who oversaw disciplinary proceedings for two other firefighters involved in the same September incident, handed down a lesser punishment to the men than the 24-hour suspensions initially proposed.
The transfer moved Chief Sloan from operations, where he assumed command for incidents in Northeast D.C.,to the logistics division overseeing use of supplies in fire stations. It was ordered hours after he turned in paperwork on a disciplinary decision, finding Lt. Henry Dent not guilty of violating department rules that prohibit the acceptance of gifts and the presence of alcohol on fire department property.
“I turned it in Monday at 1 p.m. By 5 p.m., I was transferred,” he said of the order issued May 14.
Coupled with the demotion of the other battalion fire chief, Chief Sloan worries the outcome of his case will influence the decisions made by commanding officials.
“For the rank and file, this takes away a fair, equitable disciplinary trial for the members,” Chief Sloan said.
He was assigned to handle the disciplinary case against one of three firefighters brought up on charges after a D.C. resident delivered two 12-packs of beer to Engine Co. 9 to thank firefighters who extinguished a fire at his home.
About a week after the resident brought the beer, Chief Ellerbe visited the station and found three cans of the beer left in the fire station refrigerator. He ordered that the station be taken out of service for two hours while employees were tested for alcohol. None were found to have been drinking.
Three firefighters were brought up on charges and a department official proposed a 24-hour suspensionin each of the cases, according to department records. Chief Ellerbe is listed as the sole complainant against all three firefighters in department documents.
Former Battalion Chief Richard Sterne was demoted to the rank of captain on April 8 after he chose to reprimand rather than suspend the other two men involved in the incident. He has since filed an appeal of the demotion with the District’s Office of Employee Appeals and is scheduled for a mediation hearing in June, an attorney representing him in the case said.
In a notice to Capt. Sterne advising him of the demotion, Chief Ellerbe cited his ruling in the beer case as the reason for the reduction in rank.
“Your failure to hold the members accountable for their receipt of the beer in violation of the Rules of Conduct brings into question your ability to exercise proper judgment in the performance of your assigned duties,” Chief Ellerbe wrote.