Fire captain reinstated in Arundel Civil Service Board clears officer of incompetence, racism

Kirchner breaks down

Month suspension imposed for use of offensive language

October 11, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Less than an hour after Annapolis fire Capt. Gene Kirchner broke down crying, the Civil Service Board voted unanimously yesterday to reinstate him as a captain and clear him of charges he acted incompetently and in a racist manner on a mid-July emergency call.

The board did find that Kirchner used offensive language and suspended him for four weeks, two without pay.

Despite the testimony Thursday of a new Annapolis firefighter, who said Kirchner made racist remarks about an African-American heart-attack patient, the board concluded that the city proved only that Kirchner's remarks were offensive -- not racist.

The board recommended that city employees receive language training to reduce swearing on the job.

At issue during the hearing was whether Kirchner acted competently at the scene on the night when Sean E. Lucas, 28, died, and what he said outside the hospital after the death.

Kirchner testified yesterday that he said, "What a waste. All that time and medicine. That poor old [expletive]."

Robert Proctor, a firefighter still on probation, told the board that what the captain said was, "What a waste of manpower on this black [expletive]."

Kirchner, a 30-year veteran with the department, cried twice while reading a statement to the board. His attorney had to finish the statement for him.

He said, "People told me a long time ago my mouth could get me in trouble. I guess it did. When I talked to firefighter Proctor after we left the hospital, I was talking to him as a fellow firefighter who had just seen a patient die. The word 'M.F.' is part of my everyday talk. I guess that comes from not knowing what else to say sometimes."

The board then called for a break to let Kirchner regain his composure. When he returned, he said, "To the family of Sean Lucas, I offer my condolences. I am truly sorry for your loss. To the citizens of Annapolis, I have given you over 30 years of my life. I am proud "

Kirchner was again unable to finish. His attorney, Samuel J. Brown, took the paper from him and said the accusations have destroyed Kirchner and ripped apart the Fire Department.

Reading the statement, he said Kirchner has "always given 100 percent and sometimes more."

Kirchner's suspension will begin by the end of next week. He has been on administrative leave since Fire Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. demoted, reassigned and suspended him in September.

A dozen firefighters applauded and congratulated Kirchner when the board read its decision.

"We're a little sad the Fire Department had to air every piece of dirty laundry for no reason, but we're happy Gene has been cleared," Brown said. Kirchner declined to comment.

City attorney Paul Goetzke had argued that Kirchner, when he arrived in the 1100 block of Primrose Court, did not act as if he was in charge and should have radioed paramedics assisting Lucas upstairs to see if they needed help.

Brown brought in witnesses who testified that emergency protocol requires firefighters to wait outside on medical calls until paramedics radio for help.

Goetzke also argued that Proctor had no reason to put his reputation and new career on the line by lying when he complained about Kirchner.

"Why on earth would firefighter Proctor make something like that up?" Goetzke asked the board. "And there is no doubt in his mind that [Kirchner] said a black M.F."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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