Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Firemen seeking probe of chief

Arlington Hts. mayor sees no violations

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — Volunteer firefighters here, intent on removing Chief Ed McKinney from office, announced Tuesday they will seek an independent investigation of their charges.

        The move comes after Mayor Glenn Allen met with the department's five officers, including the chief, and announced he could not find sufficient evidence in the complaints to justify suspension or termination of the chief.

        Of the department's 15 remaining volunteer firefighters, 11 signed a “no-confidence” petition requesting Chief McKinney's resignation last December. The petition containsthe signatures of four other ranking fire department officers, including Assistant Chief Joe Gehring.

        Fire Lt. Rob Edwards said the volunteers intend to consult with county officials to determine how an independent probe can be accomplished and who is best suited to conduct it. “More than two-thirds of our department want him gone,” he said.

        The firefighters presented several charges to the mayor for investigation:

        • Chief McKinney responded alone to a Carthage Avenue school on a fire run Dec. 12, 1998. He entered the building without protective gear while a fully suited two-man team waited outside. The chief's critics claim he jeopardized his personal safety and that of other firefighters.

        • A firefighter was left alone during a Feb. 2, 1997, fire at Reading Storage on Clark Road.

        • A water stream directed by the chief into a building on Elliott Avenue during a Sept. 22, 1997, fire was an irresponsible order since it could have caused a flash fire injuring firefighters inside.

        • Air bottles were not recertified to be refilled — with one last certified in 1995.

        • The chief fails to delegate work, is uncooperative with other officers and does not respond to important inquiries.

        Chief McKinney, who has led the department since 1994, has not returned calls since the charges were reported last year. He earns $3,300 a year.

        Mr. Allen said he has no objection to an independent investigation. The mayor said his decision was based on a lack of sufficient evidence to prove any violation of the department's standard operating procedures manual and on advice from City Law Director Terrence Ladrigan.

        The mayor said he has no irrefutable evidence of violations to discipline the chief.

        “I have to win; I can't lose,” he said. “There is nothing criminal here. (Chief McKinney) could appeal to village council or (Hamilton) County Common Pleas Court. I am not going to do anything unless I have him (committing violations). I will not let him turn around and sue the village.”

        The mayor said he encouraged the firefighters to review and revise the department's procedure manual to improve wording and better define breaches in procedure and conduct. The revisions then could be presented to village council for review and adoption.

        John Buxsel, a spokesman for the volunteers, said Chief McKinney developed the manual several years ago when he was a fire captain and the manual has not been available to the membership. “I requested one (last month), and I'm still waiting.”

        Also, Mr. Buxsel criticized the mayor's investigation, claiming Mr. Allen conducted no interviews with those bringing the charges.

        “We feel the haphazard way the investigation was completed is an embarrassment to our fire department,” he said.


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