Listener criticizes Portland firefighter for washing his personal car on city time

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A months-long investigation by the Portland Auditor’s Office came to a conclusion following a fraudulent trick last summer: A firefighter wasted taxpayer resources washing his personal vehicle with tap water while he woke up.

the The auditor’s report is a surprise to the Portland firefighters.

“I just don’t understand why the auditor would even address this issue,” said Isaac McLennan, who has worked for the Portland Fire Bureau for 20 years and is president of the Portland Fire Fighters’ Association, IAFF Local 43 – the union that brings them together. represented. . “It’s a long-standing practice. It is something that has been ingrained in our culture since automobiles and water coexist.

The investigation consisted of matching the firefighter’s work schedule and personal vehicle to the description in the tip, as well as asking the firefighter if he had washed his personal vehicle with tap water. He said yes.

“During our investigation, we also learned that this was a common occurrence in fire stations,” Portland Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said. “And that while there is a city-wide human resources rule that prohibits this type of use of government resources, the fire department seemed very lax in how it viewed this activity.”

Hull Caballero said the firefighter was now “in the crosshairs, potentially, of a disciplinary investigation.” The auditor’s office did not provide the name of the firefighter.

File image of a Portland fire and rescue station in June 2020. Firefighters are allowed to use their downtime to read, prepare meals, or shower at city fire stations, but the The city’s auditor says they are not allowed to wash their personal vehicles at stations because they would use government resources for their personal benefit.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

Firefighters work long, 24-hour shifts – sometimes back-to-back, totaling up to 96 straight hours. During their downtime between calls, they are allowed to nap, read, prepare meals, and even take a shower at city fire stations.

Hull Caballero said these are acceptable tasks, but using city water to wash personal vehicles is not.

“If you want to sit down and read a book or watch a movie or something, that’s one thing, because you bring your own material to participate in these activities, Hull Caballero said. “But that’s when you get a personal benefit from something that’s a government resource, that’s what makes the difference. I mean, what would stop a firefighter from bringing all his cars in to wash them? “

McLennan said firefighters also do basic maintenance of the city’s fire hall buildings, including landscaping and cleaning gutters and roofs, and they see washing their cars as a fair trade. for the money they save the city by hiring outside contractors. He said he is not sure where the city draws the line for what is considered a government resource.

“If a person is going to use the microwave to heat their lunch, do they have to pay for electricity?” McLennan said. “Do they have to pay for the lights they use or the water they use to wash their hands? “

The auditor’s report does not include an estimate of how much the city could spend allowing firefighters to wash their personal vehicles, but according to the City of Portland website, residences pay a penny by 1.2 gallon of water. Washing a vehicle in a residential driveway uses about 100 gallons of water, so a little over a dollar per vehicle.

The auditor’s report says this incident goes beyond the cost to the city: Public perception is also affected when people see firefighters washing their personal vehicles at fire stations.

“The [Fire] The Bureau risks appearing indifferent to legitimate compliance issues by trivializing them, ”we read. “It also risks giving the impression of using a double standard to assess driving, as the Bureau is unlikely to ignore a community member who attempted to wash a personal vehicle at a fire station.”

Following the report, McLennan said Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone issued a cease and desist letter urging all city firefighters to stop washing their personal vehicles at fire stations.


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