An investigation into allegations of physical and verbal abuse involving Georgetown Fire Department trainees is ongoing, according to city officials.
Most of the claims have not been substantiated, although a 13-page investigative report by Megan Miller, the city’s human resources director, directly led to the dismissal of Greg Bayer as fire chief, said Mayor Tom Prather.
“In the course of Megan’s investigation it became clear morale within the fire department was a problem,” Prather said. “It’s like I said before, it wasn’t a good fit. His leadership style was not a fit. His treatment of people was not a fit. Morale was becoming a problem. This required a replacement.”
Bayer was not directly involved in any of the abuse allegations, but he was an advocate for a personal friend who was in training and not physically able to complete the course, Prather said.
“(The trainee) asked to withdraw, but Bayer talked him into staying knowing the man was not physically able to do the job,” the mayor said. “A firefighter has to depend upon and trust his fellow firefighters. They knew this individual was not physically able to be a firefighter, but Bayer kept him on. That affected the morale of the entire department.”
The News-Graphic received a list of allegations made against the fire department from an anonymous email source. The newspaper met with Prather and Andrew Hartley, city chief administrative officer, to go through the charges one-by-one.
Among the allegations is acting fire chief Eric Colson “grabbed a recruit from behind and threw him to the ground while yelling at him,” states the email. Colson was named acting chief this week in the wake of Bayer’s dismissal. He has been a long-time assistant fire chief for the department.
“Our investigation found no evidence to substantiate that claim,” Hartley said. “The touching was part of proper training behavior. He was showing the trainee proper positioning.”
Miller interviewed 18-20 firefighters through the early part of her investigation, and there was no indication Colson did anything improper, Hartley said.
“Colson was completely exonerated,” Prather said “We take these allegations very seriously. These charges were a critical part of the investigation, but there was no substantiation. The report completed exonerated Colson.”
Among the other allegations contained in the anonymous email:
—“The recruits were subjected to heineius (sp) acts, such as water boarding. Yes, water boarding. They were made to put their nomex hoods on backwards while water was being poured on his face.”
—“a previous recruit who graduated class and was one month from his probationary year, quit the department due to extreme hazing by other firefighters. He was made to eat every meal out of a dog bowl on the floor out in the bay, while being treated like a dog, among other acts as well.”
The anonymous email author states Bayer tried to stop the hazing, and that is why he was dismissed. Prather staunchly disagreed with that statement.
The “waterboard” incident was not as the email described, Hartley said.
“There is a part of the training where these hoods are placed on backwards,” he said. “It is called a trust exercise. Firefighters have to have confidence in each other even when they can’t see each other.
“At some point a couple of firefighters did climb up on the second floor and pour water on the trainee as a prank. It wasn’t a fire hose bunch of water, but more like a cup. It was a prank gone wrong, but it certainly wasn’t waterboarding.”
The latest fire department training class originally included three recruits. One graduated Friday, but the other two were not physically capable of completing the training, Prather said. One recruit had a severe blood pressure problem that required training to be stopped several times until his blood pressure normalized, the mayor said. The email states another recruit left training and had to have reconstructive surgery on his ankle.
“The other firefighters knew they were not physically able to complete training,” he said.
The investigation is continuing and more firefighters will be interviewed, Hartley said. Once the investigation is complete, then a determination if any disciplinary action is necessary will be made.
“We can’t answer everything because the investigation is not complete,” he said.
The city declined to release the 13-page report Miller has already completed.
“We’ll release it when the investigation is finished,” Prather said. “We do not feel it is appropriate to release it at this time. Megan is very thorough. She is very good. The investigation will be full.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.