Accusations male SF firefighters harassed female firefighter

It's a scandal that rocked the San Francisco Fire Department, allegations that several male firefighters harassed a female firefighter for months, urinating in her bed, even defecating in her bathroom and spreading the feces on the floor.

KTVU's Tara Moriarty sat down with two of the accused to hear their side of the story for the first time.
When a female firefighter we are only identifying as "Jane" was transferred to Station two in Chinatown in January, her co-workers say life at the firehouse began to change.

"I want the truth to come out," the two told KTVU.
Two firefighters we've named "Albert" and "Jack" agreed to speak to KTVU but wanted their identities concealed out of fear of retaliation. It was just weeks after Jane's arrival to Fire Station 2 that Jane claimed that she was being harassed by her fellow male firefighters.

Moriarty: "Did you harass this woman?"

Albert: "No, I did not. "

Moriarty: "To your knowledge did anyone else harass this woman?"

Albert: "No."

According to firefighters, Jane accused them of hiding her boots before a firehouse inspection, spreading feces on her bathroom floor, and urinating in her bed.

"When we first heard that; it was a unanimous thing where we said we'll submit to a DNA test, why don't we get a sample of it and that would rule us all out," said Albert.

Six months later, Jane went on leave.

By the end of August, Chief Joanne Hayes White wrote a letter to 10 firefighters informing them after concluding an internal investigation; they would all be reassigned to new stations. They would also have to undergo harassment prevention training.

"We're being punished for something we didn't do, I felt very hurt by it, I felt very betrayed by the department," said Albert.

Firefighters say the charges are ironic, they believe it's 54 year old Battalion Chief Sam Romero, who was stationed at Firehouse 2, who was acting inappropriately by having an affair with Jane, his subordinate.

We spoke to Chief Hayes White on September 23rd to ask her about the firefighters' claim.

"So you're way ahead of us on it. We're not there yet. Like I said, this is all unfolding. And you know, I can assure everyone that appropriate action will be taken when we have all the facts and circumstances," said Chief Hayes White. We recently requested an on camera interview from Chief Hayes White, but that request was denied.

"I think they're trying to deflect from their relationship," said Jack. "I think the people at work have been very upset because the favoritism that he shows toward her."

Dozens of firefighters we spoke to claim that the favoritism can even be traced back years to when Romero was Captain at station 13. "I know people complained and they were told "Hey, I'm the Captain, don't worry about it," said Albert.

The Fire Department handbook states, "You must notify your supervisor if you are, or become related to or romantically involved with another employee in the workplace over whom you have the authority to impose or recommend an employment action."

Co-workers say the two denied having a relationship.

"Very interestingly they were many many days where both of them would call in sick and that day we get a phone call, hey, we just saw these two people having lunch at Pier 23 or having drinks at Cliff House," said Albert.

"In one case, at approximately 4 o'clock in the morning the whole station had a dispatch and she was seen coming out of his room on the mezzanine level," said Jack.

Department rules prohibit officers from even accessing the Chief's floor.

Jack and Albert say Romero also showed favoritism toward Jane by allowing her to drive him in his company vehicle for the day.

"By doing that she gets a bump in pay of $403," said Jack.

Driving the battalion chief around gets firefighters an extra $403 dollars in pay, something Jack said should have gone to more senior firefighters.

"There's other senior firefighters who are in line to move into that position for that day," said Jack.

Through GPS records we obtained, we saw Romero made multiple trips in his battalion chief's SUV to Jane's house. One visit on September 2nd, lasted for an hour and 18 minutes.

Jack says taking a ride to Jane's house from the Richmond Station could have put the public's safety at risk.

"He's visiting her in the Sunset area which is out of his battalion so his response times to any incidents will be delayed by quite a few minutes," Jack said.

In the department, firefighters only work nine days a month.

Through work schedules KTVU obtained, there were 25 days between January and August where Romero and Jane either called in sick on the same day or switched days so they could work together.

With the male firefighters now sensing favoritism towards Jane, did their growing concern actually take a turn and lead to harassment?

Female firefighters say no chance.

"That's the most absurd and quite frankly, that's insulting. Most of those guys are married family guys with kids and going to soccer games on Saturdays and Sundays with volleyball and, whatever, I mean they're just ordinary guys that do an extraordinary job," said Lt. Julie DeJarlais.

Julie Dejarlais worked at Station 2 for years and says she doesn't believe any of the men accused of harassment are capable of it. "It's completely isolated to one particular situation that now is taking out a whole firehouse that doesn't deserve it," she said. "Some of these guys are just getting ready to promote and now they look like they're these chumps that pick on people."

"I think it affects the morale in the department, I think it paints a picture that is not accurate," said Katherine Alba-Swanson, SFFD.

Albert and Jack say they believe the allegations are being perpetuated by Battalion Chief Sam Romero.

"He was the only one who had pictures of what happened. He was the only one who reported it. She was the only one who reported it. She did not report it directly to her supervisor."

Moriarty: "So you think they planted the evidence themselves?"

Jack: "I do."

By October 22nd nine firefighters at Station 2 had been reassigned to other stations while the Fire Department conducted its own investigation separate from the City's Department of Human Resources.
Sam Romero was reassigned to station 31 in the Richmond permanently, just one neighborhood over from Jane's house.

In the past few weeks, a letter was sent to all firefighters in SFFD informing them that they would have to undergo harassment training.

At least one firefighter has hired an attorney, five others say they will also seek representation if they they receive suspensions.

A suspension could mean a dock in pay for several days, which is costly but most firefighters tell me that they usually end up just accepting their fate because to take legal action is more expensive.

That's why they agreed to speak to us in the first place. They said they wanted to clear Station 2's name.

Battalion Chief Romero did not want to comment for this story.

Jane told Moriarty by phone that she has no comment at this time but indicate that there are two sides to the story and that she may eventually come forward because she believes she has a powerful story to tell.

One thing is for sure, Station 2's drama has been a distraction for the entire department.