Safford investigating fire department for alleged inappropriate behavior during Independence Day

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald

Staff Reports

SAFFORD – Safford City Manager Horatio Skeete, Police Chief Joe Brugman, and the Safford Human Resources department are investigating a claim that some firefighters may have acted inappropriately while celebrating Independence Day. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham, left, and Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Anderson address the Safford City Council in June 2018. The city is investigating allegations of inappropriate behavior by members of the department during Independence Day.

“The Safford City Council received an anonymous letter outlining some behavior by some members of the department that in the opinion of the author was unbecoming and reflected poorly on the department as a whole.

The area of concerns (were): 

  1. The unprofessional (obscene) language use by members of the department during a response to two fire calls late into the evening around the time of the city’s July 4th fireworks show.
  2. The presence of alcohol at the fire station, and in this person’s opinion some of the firefighters responding to the fire call seemed intoxicated.

Neither of these two behaviors (is) considered by me or this city council as acceptable, in fact, they are a violation of city policy and expected behavior of city employees. In a preliminary investigation by the (Safford) City Manager, the dispatch recordings during the incident revealed that there was indeed the use of inappropriate language broadcast over the radios, and alcohol was present at the fire station during the day of July 4.

I have instructed the city manager to put an investigating team of himself, the police chief, and the human resources officer complete a full investigation of this incident and bring back to us a report including recommendations of any disciplinary action and training necessary to ensure that this behavior is not repeated in the future.  

We want to assure the public that the legacy of exceptional service provided by our fire department will continue and we will repair any damage to public trust caused by this unfortunate incident.”

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Andrew Kunz, left, who was saved from a swarm of Killer bees by Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham, presents a certificate of excellence to the fire chief during a Safford City Council meeting during March 2017.

Saturday evening, Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham issued the following statement regarding the allegations and investigation.

“I would like to take the opportunity to publically apologize to the members of the Graham County Sheriff Department for my inappropriate reference to members of the department as “County Mounties”.  Upon reflection could see how this comment while used is jest could be misinterpreted by some members of the department or the public.  I will like to assure everyone that no harm or ill will was intended by my reference. (sic) 

To the members of the BLM Forest Service, I also apologize for the lude and inappropriate comment harled at you during one of the two fire incidents on the fourth of July.  There can not be a satisfactory explanation for the comments made by a member of our department. Simply put, it was vulgar and inappropriate, for that, I apologize on behalf of the Safford Fire Department. We have enjoyed many years of cooperation and calibration in the vital public service we provide to the community and your ever willingness to step in and help us in time of need has always been appreciated.  I can only hope that we can get beyond this unfortunate incident as soon as possible and we can get back to the level of cooperation, assistance, and respect we have enjoyed while serving our community.

I am going to institute a mandatory training series on proper radio protocol for every member of my department as well as sensitivity training to ensure that behavior in public and private meets the level of professionalism expected of us when responding to an emergency call.

By now, it is common knowledge the city council has ordered an investigation I encourage everyone contacted during this process to fully cooperate with the investigating team.”

Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham was elected to his position Dec. 6, 2011 and has been honored for his service, including receiving a certificate of excellence from the city and being named the Pride of Safford. The Gila Herald will follow up this story when possible. 

This article was updated at 1 a.m., Sunday, July 14.

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