Fire captain might be punished

Officer's comments to The Sun not approved

March 13, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,[Sun reporter]

A Baltimore Fire Department captain faces internal sanctions for speaking to The Sun about a fatal training exercise in which one recruit died and two others were injured.

Capt. Brian K. Edwards, who worked in the department's training academy for six years, could face punishment ranging from a verbal reprimand to suspension without pay, a department spokesman said yesterday.

Edwards' comments raising questions about the abilities of Battalion Chief Kenneth Hyde Sr., who was later fired by the mayor, violated a rule that effectively bars firefighters from speaking to the media without prior approval.

The regulation states that no member of the Fire Department can disseminate information that might "injure, disrupt or imperil the reputation, discipline or efficient operation" of the agency.

A copy of the disciplinary memo was obtained by The Sun. The punishment is raising questions about whether Edwards is being singled out for retribution in the wake of a Feb. 9 training fire that proved embarrassing for the department, led to public apologies from the mayor and fire chief, and prompted a series of outside reviews.

Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers union, said he was concerned that the possible sanctions are meant to intimidate.

"This is typical retribution against our members for simply telling the truth," Fugate said. "I believe that the public have a right to know. I think all Brian was trying to do was add some first-hand knowledge to the story."

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Fire Department, disputed Fugate's assessment and said the charges against Edwards were filed by Battalion Commander Edward Cooper, not the chief of the department.

"It is standard operating procedure that any fire employee go though the public information officer before they talk," Binetti said. "When the Fire Department is investigating itself, it has to maintain the utmost credibility." He said the rule applies whether the member is off or on duty.

Binetti said the case against Edwards "have nothing to do with Kenny Hyde and the context of his quotes."

The spokesman said Edwards does not face dismissal and that his fate would be determined by his immediate supervisor.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon, e-mailed a statement that said, "I want to get more information on this matter, but it is important that we deal only in facts and that everyone follow the set protocols in sharing information. ... People can't operate outside of the set expectations for sharing information."

In the statement, Dixon reiterated that the independent investigation into the death of Racheal M. Wilson would be "transparent."

Edwards was quoted in a February profile of Hyde and was off-duty when he spoke with a reporter for an article that was published Feb. 15, two days after Hyde was suspended without pay for organizing a training exercise in which a vacant city rowhouse was burned and recruits sent inside to fight multiple fires. Wilson, a cadet, was killed.

The story quoted a number of people who had worked with Hyde in various capacities. Edwards said Hyde "was not familiar enough with the training at the academy to take a class out to an outside burn, and he did not know the requirements. He did not know the procedures."

A department investigation showed that 36 safety standards were not followed during the fatal training fire Hyde supervised.

Edwards declined to be interviewed for this article.

Kenneth A. Haag, a battalion chief, wrote in a departmental charges memo to Fire Department Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. that Edwards spoke to The Sun and "received no approval prior to speaking to the newspaper while off-duty."

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