Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fire union fears sex-romp backlash

Alleged incident isolated: website

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The union representing Winnipeg's firefighters is "saddened and disappointed" by allegations one of its members neglected his duties to engage in an on-duty sexual romp.

But the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg is urging citizens not to use the incident to paint all firefighters with the same brush.

"An incident is currently being investigated and the allegations refer to the actions of one, and only one, firefighter," the union said in a written statement posted Friday on its Winnipeg website.

"Incidents such as this are extremely rare and isolated and should in no way affect the respect that the citizens of Winnipeg have for their firefighters."

The statement came hours after a Free Press story detailed an ongoing internal investigation. The incident has sparked some fiery local debate, with members of the public clearly divided over the seriousness of the allegations.

The firefighter in question is accused of leaving the Osborne Street fire hall on July 17, only to be found later in an equipment shed behind the building in a "compromising position" with a woman who was visiting.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is also probing whether his actions caused the other seven members of his shift to be unable to report to an emergency call.

Officials say no calls for service were missed or delayed.

"The other firefighters who were stationed at the fire hall were not involved in any way whatsoever. The officers reported the incident immediately," the union statement said.

Ken Sim, the deputy chief of operations for the WFPS, told the Free Press on Thursday there was a lengthy delay in bringing the matter to management's attention.

"It's surprising it took so long to come forward," said Sim, who couldn't offer any explanation for the delay. He said management first heard about it through the proverbial "rumour mill" and began to investigate after learning it had "merit."

A platoon chief has been assigned to interview all firefighters working in the station that night and is expected to submit a report to the WFPS in the next few days.

Sim said a decision will then be made regarding possible disciplinary action against the employee, who has been transferred to another station while the matter is investigated. Sim said potential discipline could include forced time off, a letter on his permanent record and "remedial education."

"We will continue to give the citizens a very high level of service in fire and medical emergencies and we will continue to put our lives on the line daily to ensure that the citizens are safe," continued the union statement.

"We have protected Winnipeg's citizens for 128 years and we will continue to deliver that same high level of service for the next 128 years and beyond."

The statement ended by saying no further comments would be made until the investigation was completed.

Union president Alex Forrest is away, and was unavailable for an interview.

The Osborne Street fire hall is no stranger to controversy.

It made headlines in 2004 after firefighters were accused of improper behaviour with several young female visitors. Three firefighters were demoted, but two later regained their positions with back pay after the case went to a provincial labour hearing.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2009 A4

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