5 SF firefighters await suspensions over crash

Possible suspension comes after a firefighter, suspected of being drunk, struck a motorcyclist with a ladder truck and left the scene

San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Two members of San Francisco Fire Department's top brass and three lower-ranking firefighters face possible suspensions stemming from an incident in which a firefighter suspected of being drunk struck a motorcyclist with a ladder truck and left the scene, The Chronicle has learned.

Chief Joanne Hayes-White has notified Assistant Chiefs Art Kenney and Dave Franklin that they could be suspended for 10 days and eight days, respectively, for their actions the night of the crash, June 29, sources familiar with the investigation said Monday.

The commanders were in charge of the crash scene shortly after firefighter Michael Quinn, 43, struck and seriously injured motorcyclist Jack Frazier at Fifth and Howard streets.

Quinn was responding to what turned out to be a false alarm when he entered the intersection on a red light and struck Frazier, who suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung when he was thrown into a fire hydrant. Quinn allegedly left and did not return to the department's Station No. 1 down Howard Street for several hours.

Sources have said that a surveillance camera filmed Quinn guzzling water at a bar at Fifth and Howard streets after the crash.

Another high-ranking official who was at the crash scene, acting Battalion Chief Mark Hayes, faces a possible four-day suspension, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because personnel cases are not public record.

The basis for the possible suspensions of the two assistant chiefs and Hayes was not immediately clear.

Under city rules, the chief can impose suspensions of up to 10 days without approval from the city Fire Commission. Any firefighter's appeal of a suspension would go before the commission.

Two lower-level firefighters face more serious discipline that requires the commission's review, sources said.

One is Warren Der, who was the tillerman operating the truck with Quinn and was reportedly seen on the bar surveillance video with Quinn. He faces a 30-day suspension, as does the commander of the truck that Quinn was driving, Capt. Matt Schwartz, sources said.

Fifteen other firefighters who were on duty that night were sent letters declaring that they were cleared, sources said.

Quinn, who faced possible firing based on a battery of misconduct charges, recently resigned. A police investigation is continuing, but Quinn has not been hit with criminal charges.

Quinn had been ordered to wait at the crash scene to submit to drug and alcohol tests. Instead, he left and went to the Chieftain bar, just a few feet from where the crash happened, and drank large amounts of water, sources said.

When Quinn returned to his stationhouse, his blood alcohol content was tested at 0.13 percent, well above the 0.08 percent legal limit, sources said. The Fire Department has a zero-tolerance policy for on-duty drinking.

Hayes-White said she could not confirm details of the possible disciplinary actions. But she acknowledged that about 20 firefighters had received letters from the department, some alerting the recipients of possible discipline and some declaring that the recipients had been cleared.

She said her review showed that "different decisions could have been made that night."

"I believe in my heart of hearts," she said, that there was no collusion between firefighters in the Quinn case.

"What has been alleged is that it was a cover-up," the chief said. "I don't believe that there was a cover-up that evening, nor did the administrative investigation that we conducted indicate that.

"Could there have been other, perhaps better decisions that night? Yes."

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