SAFFORD — After investigating claims that members of the Safford Volunteer Fire Department responded to July 4 fire calls while intoxicated and used obscene language over the radio, the City of Safford handed down disciplinary measures and announced that changes will be made in the department.
The claims stemmed from an anonymous letter presented to the City Council alleging that firefighters used profanities in response to two fire calls on the evening of July 4. The letter also claimed alcohol was present at the fire station and some firefighters responding to at least one of the calls appeared to be intoxicated.
A preliminary investigation by City Manager Horatio Skeete found that alcohol was present at the station on July 4, and radio recordings revealed the use of profanities. A full investigation was then conducted by Skeete, Police Chief Joe Brugman and Human Resources Officer Lydia Newkirk.
In a July 23 press release, the city announced that Fire Chief Clark Bingham will receive a letter of reprimand, Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Anderson will be demoted and barred from holding elected office for two years, and firefighter James Holguin will be suspended from active firefighting duties for a month.
Bingham will also work with Skeete to develop a code of conduct for the department, and the city will provide added leadership training. In an e-mail to the Courier, Skeete said this would be “the first official code of conduct for the department, as far as I can tell.”
In addition, the City Council directed changes to Safford’s municipal code so that the city manager’s office will supervise the fire department’s daily operations.
In his e-mail to the Courier, Skeete said it was “never very clear” if firefighters were previously defined as city employees when called to active duty. “They were never given an employee handbook or a formal employee orientation.”
“It is the mission of the Safford City Council to provide a safe and healthy environment for every member of the community we serve, and to honor the long and rich traditions of the Safford Volunteer Fire Department. We look forward to closing this unfortunate chapter, mending any broken fences with our trusted neighbors, and rebuilding the confidence and public trust in our department,” Mayor Jason Kouts said in the press release.
David Bell contributed to this article.