Fire alarm

Incidents related to Toledo’s Station 5 suggest the need for a full, fair review and appropriate discipline


The reputations of the Toledo Fire Department and city Law Department have not been enhanced by reports of recent incidents involving firefighters at the downtown station. There appears no reason to conclude that there is a pervasive, dysfunctional institutional culture at Station 5 or any other city firehouse.

Still, to preserve the good names of the Fire Department and the 500-plus men and women who work for it, the official investigations of the infractions must be thorough and the discipline imposed must be appropriate.

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This month, city law director Adam Loukx suspended a city prosecutor for five days without pay after the prosecutor decided not to pursue a drunken-driving charge against a veteran firefighter assigned to Station 5. On Jan. 14, the firefighter reportedly lost control of a personal vehicle and hit a flagpole, a stone monument, a fire hydrant, and a traffic-control box near Sylvania and Phillips avenues.

The firefighter refused a blood-alcohol test — an act that ordinarily leads to an automatic, year-long license suspension. But the choice not to press the drunken-driving charge enabled him to plead no contest to the lesser charge of reckless operation and maintain his driving privileges. The Fire Department is conducting an independent review of the incident.

Mr. Loukx said the prosecutor showed poor judgment, but not overt favoritism toward the firefighter. Still, the disposition of the case leaves questions about why the charge was dropped in the absence of a blood-alcohol test.

Another Station 5 firefighter faces a pretrial hearing next month on charges of driving while intoxicated and failure to stop after an accident last December on West Sylvania Avenue near Douglas Road. The Fire Department placed neither firefighter on leave while it launched internal investigations of the incidents.

Two other on-duty firefighters were suspended last month for using a Station 5 emergency vehicle in January to transport three nurses to a party at a nearby bar. The department says it reduced the firefighters’ initial suspensions by two-thirds because of their good records and voluntary candor about the incident.

Fire Chief Luis Santiago told The Blade’s editorial board that the firefighters could have responded to an emergency call that night. The department denies a charge by the city fire union that the firefighters were told that union involvement in the case would end any possibility of a favorable deal.

Chief Santiago insists he will not allow Fire Department standards to be compromised, and that “we’re going to deal” with the incidents. He also argues plausibly that these infractions must be kept in perspective: He notes that Toledo firefighters and emergency personnel handle 55,000 service calls a year, and that his department has earned professional accreditation that eludes most other departments, in Ohio and across the nation.

But even if these incidents are unconnected, the fact that they occurred suggests that a further, broader review of department procedures, especially at Station 5, may be warranted. Mayor Mike Bell, a former city fire chief, would seem in an especially good position to know what questions should be asked.