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2 state firefighters sacked, 13 punished after ethics probe

Two state firefighters sacked, 13 punished after ethics probe

Two state firefighters were terminated Wednesday and more than a dozen were punished following an investigation that began last spring after a fire chief’s fiancée was fatally stabbed.

Thirteen employees with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection were slapped with disciplinary action ranging from suspension and reductions in pay to demotion, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. One person resigned.

Of the 16 employees under investigation, one was a student at the department's fire academy in Ione, while the other 15 were instructors there. Two were also serving in management positions, Berlant said.

The punishments follow a $2-million investigation by the California Highway Patrol that began in May, the same month officials launched a statewide manhunt for Battalion Chief Orville Fleming, 56, who is charged in the stabbing death of his fiancée. 

Fleming, who worked at the state fire academy, was arrested in late May and awaits trial in Sacramento County, but his estranged wife alleged that firefighters were having sex with prostitutes at the academy and that they had made a sex tape.

The sex tape and prostitution allegations were determined to be baseless, but the ethics investigation by CHP revealed unrelated violations of agency policy, Berlant said.

Those violations include misuse of state property, misuse of state time and dishonesty. In one case, an employee was found to have violated the department’s hiring and promotions policy, Berlant said.

Further details about misconduct were not released because employees have the right to appeal their punishment or termination to the state personnel board, Berlant said.

“We don’t want to jeopardize the remaining part of the disciplinary process,” he said.

The CHP handed over its full investigative report to Cal Fire in the last week. On Dec. 29, all 16 employees were placed on paid leave, and since then, one resigned.

In a statement, Chief Ken Pimlott, director of Cal Fire, said the investigation showed that “the actions of a few individuals” violated the public trust.

“We are pursuing the disciplinary process to the furthest extent allowed,” Pimlott said. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

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