Assistant Chief Retiring Amid Controversy Over Letter : Fire Department: Women's association says he retaliated against a member after the group accused him of ignoring reports of bias at the training academy.


Assistant City Fire Chief Randy Wallace is retiring amid allegations that he retaliated against a Fire Department secretary because of her membership in a group that accused him of ignoring reports of discrimination against women recruits at the Fire Academy.

The Affirmative Action Assn. for Women says that Wallace "berated, humiliated (and) intimidated" the secretary after the association criticized Wallace in a letter to the city Fire Commission.

Asked Friday whether the controversy prompted his decision to retire, Wallace, who is Fire Chief Donald O. Manning's chief of staff, said that although he made the decision "some time ago," he "can't really disassociate the two." Asked to comment on the secretary's allegations, Wallace said, "I really don't want to get into that."

The reports of discrimination at the academy surfaced in a city audit made public by The Times in November.

Among other things, the audit found that the academy--where trainees are drilled in the physical and technical aspects of firefighting--was the focal point of problems in a department in which about 40% of female recruits have washed out over the past seven years--about twice the failure rate of male recruits.

At a hearing before the City Council's Personnel Committee on Dec. 21, fire Capt. Bassanio Peters testified that he had told Wallace last year that women were being subjected to harsher evaluations in an effort to boot them off the force.

Summoned to respond to Peters' testimony, Wallace and Manning said that although the training staff was transferred elsewhere in the department after Peters' complaints, there was no internal investigation of the matter because Peters made his accusations anonymously through an intermediary.

However, Wallace later acknowledged that Peters had spoken to him personally and identified himself.

Councilman Mike Hernandez said he is troubled by the apparent discrepancies in Wallace's statements. On Jan. 20, The Affirmative Action Assn. for Women, a group representing some women in the city work force, wrote a letter to the Fire Commission, accusing Wallace of ignoring Peters' complaints.

The association says that on Jan. 25, Wallace approached the 48-year-old secretary--a member of the association and an 11-year employee of the Fire Department--and began to browbeat her about the letter to the Fire Commission.

In a subsequent note to Manning, the association said the secretary told Wallace she did not write the letter to the commission, and asked him to address his complaints to the author--association President Michelle Nagin, an employee in the Building and Safety Department.

"Chief Wallace not only ignored her request, but continued to stand over her desk where she was seated, pointing his finger at her in a loud and abusive tone, continuously stating he was mad," the association said in its note to Manning.

Sources say the Fire Department has been conducting an internal investigation to determine whether Wallace yelled at the woman. Two department employees--a captain and an executive secretary--have said they heard Wallace raising his voice during the incident, the sources said.

According to the sources, Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg called Manning on Tuesday, asking if the secretary was under departmental investigation for allegedly spreading rumors about the chief's son, Battalion Chief Terrence Manning. The chief confirmed the investigation, saying it was unrelated to the Jan. 25 incident involving Wallace, the sources said. Neither Goldberg nor the chief could be reached for comment.

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