Firefighters’ claims lead to fire chief being disciplined

The Oklahoman

EDMOND, Okla. — The city’s fire chief has been hit with unspecified discipline after an internal investigation sparked by formal complaints filed by three firefighters, a city official confirmed.

The firefighters leveled complaints of a hostile work environment, corruption and coercion against Fire Chief Jake Rhoades.

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

One of the complaints was filed by Pfeiffer, who discussed his complaint with The Oklahoman. He said the two firefighters who filed the other complaints did not want to talk about the investigation.

The fire chief was accused of calling firefighters names and of trying to coerce and intimidate department members into “making sure their memory was correct” regarding incidents involving the chief, one of the complaints states.

Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens said he met with the firefighters Monday to notify them of the results of the two-month-long internal investigation. Stevens declined to reveal the nature of the discipline.

“A hostile work environment wasn’t substantiated,” Stevens said. “I can’t talk about it; it is a personnel issue.”

“I did take disciplinary action. I took the action that I thought was appropriate.”

Rhoades, who has been fire chief since November 2012, was not put on administrative leave during the investigation and was at work on Monday.

When reached by phone, Rhoades said he had no comment. He deferred all questions to the city manager.

Pfeiffer said he doesn’t agree with the city manager’s decision. He said he plans to file a grievance with the firefighter’s union.

“I feel that my job and my life are even more in danger because they didn’t take the appropriate action to make the work environment safe,” Pfeiffer said. “We’re not talking he called me a bad name. It is something more serious.”

One firefighter wrote in his complaint that Rhoades said “that he could do whatever … he wants and that he can get away with murder with his boss.” Rhoades’ boss is Stevens.

The complaint describes “constant berating and belittling” at the department.

The fire chief’s “unending use of curse words and foul language does not reflect on the City of Edmond kindly and should never be tolerated,” the complaint states.

Another complaint was that the fire chief, while in uniform, loudly cursed in a restaurant with a woman and small children at the next table. A lieutenant was later pressured to lie about the incident, the complaint states.

Pfeiffer said firefighters have an audio recording of the fire chief to back up their claims and provided an apparent transcript of the recording. They offered to take polygraph tests to prove their honesty, he said.

“I love my community, and this is disheartening after 31 years to have to fear to come to my job and fear for my life and job,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer said he believes three quarters of the department backs the firefighters who filed the formal complaints.

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