Okla. fire chief resigns amid internal investigation

By Diana Baldwin
The Oklahoman

EDMOND, Okla. — Edmond Fire Chief Jake Rhoades has submitted his resignation from the city's fire department, effective Monday.

The move comes at the close of an internal investigation into a hostile work environment, corruption and coercion within the department.

Turmoil surfaced in the Edmond Fire Department in late April when three firefighters filed formal complaints, sparking a two-month internal review by an outside investigator.

Rhoades was disciplined in late June, but was left on the job during and after the investigation.

An audiotape that firefighters said backed up their claims was later given to City Manager Larry Stevens, and Rhoades was put on administrative leave with pay on July 15.

"This resignation comes after months of anguish and frustration," Rhoades said in a prepared statement emailed to The Oklahoman. "This resignation is a necessity for my health and best interests of my family.

"I have enjoyed the vast majority of my time in Edmond, but instituting change within this organization has proven to be a difficult and daunting task."

Rhoades has been Edmond's fire chief since November 2012. He made an annual salary of $124,603.

The city manager said his investigation was completed when he spoke with Rhoades twice this week before receiving the resignation on Thursday.

"It would be inappropriate for me to say anything else," Stevens said.

"This is a personnel matter."

The Oklahoman obtained copies of two of the three formal complaints. They included a claim that Rhoades said Battalion Chief Keith Randolph should threaten to kill Capt. Vince Pfeiffer, a 31-year member of the Edmond Fire Department.

Pfeiffer, who filed one of the complaints, said members of the fire department were encouraged on Friday when they learned Rhoades had resigned.

"I appreciate the city manager upholding the city's code of ethics and business-conduct policy," Pfeiffer said.

"I am looking forward to working with the future fire chief and provide quality care and service that Edmond deserves."

One of the complaints accused the chief of calling firefighters names and said that he tried to coerce and intimidate members into "making sure their memory was correct," concerning incidents involving the chief.

Another complaint was the chief, while in uniform, loudly cussed in a restaurant with a woman and small children at the next table. A lieutenant was later pressured to lie about the incident, one of the complaints stated.

Rhoades did not address the allegations against him in his prepared statement. He did say his departure comes with great frustration in his own leadership.

"In reflection, there are many things I could have done differently to make the organization more cohesive and increase 'buy in' from members," Rhoades wrote.

"Leadership is an imperfect art and I have learned many lessons while in Edmond which may prove to be the 'silver lining' to this experience for myself as well as the Edmond Fire Department."

The three firefighters who filed the complaints were considering filing grievances with the union.

They plan to meet and decide the fate of the grievances, Pfeiffer said.

Search for new chief

Battalion Chief Doug Hall, who was appointed acting fire chief on July 16, will served as interim fire chief until a successor is named in a national search.

"I have done a national search," Stevens said.

"We will continue to do so. I anticipate there will be inside and outside candidates."

Stevens plans to appoint a focus group of staff and community members to find the new chief.

"We will move forward as quickly as we can to get the best fit," Stevens said.

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(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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