LEWIS CENTER — During a special public meeting Monday, the Orange Township Board of Trustees approved resolutions terminating the employment of Fire Capt. John Hodges, Fire Lt. David Martin, and Firefighter Bradly Belville in connection with the alleged hazing and sexual harassment of two part-time firefighters.
“We keep hearing that this is just horseplay and just normal firehouse banter,” said Trustee Debbie Taranto. “I think there is a very big line between hazing and harassment, and what is firehouse banter. I’m disappointed in the leadership that this was not stopped immediately when it had started.”
The investigative reports allege “abusive behavior, hazing, and harassment by touching, hitting, and/or tapping (another firefighter/paramedic) in the groin and creating such an environment that (the firefighter/paramedic) would flinch and cover himself expecting to be hit in the groin when someone walked by.” The reports include verbal abuse, name-calling, and the use of vulgar language that included the use of the F-word in ridiculing another firefighter/paramedic.
After talking with each firefighter in closed-door sessions with their union representatives and attorneys, Trustee Ryan Rivers read the charges and recommendations for each of the firefighters/paramedics.
“Firefighter Bradly Belville, I find unacceptable behavior in a situation of verbal hazing and harassment,” Rivers said. “Firefighter Belville doesn’t deny he did it, and I recommend we support the findings and recommendation of the hearing officer.”
The action was termination, which Taranto agreed with also.
“I understand that Lt. Martin has apologized. His actions are certainly remorseful for the situation,” Rivers said. “However, I find it to be a whole lot more here than just simple antics of poor behavior. It’s unacceptable, and I’m also going to support the recommendation of the hearing officer as well.”
The action taken against Martin was to terminate his employment with the township. Taranto agreed.
“In regard to Capt. Hodges, as we listen to his statement today, he disagreed with a few things but doesn’t deny the overall conduct that is in the report,” Rivers said. “I am also going to support the recommendation of the hearing officer as well.”
Taranto agreed with the action of termination and then read a prepared statement.
“The Orange Township Board of Trustees takes seriously all allegations of inappropriate conduct or conduct unbecoming made against any employee,” she read. “The board will not tolerate such unacceptable behavior in the workplace. The township’s goal is to perform a comprehensive unbiased investigation of all allegations, while providing due process to all employees. The township is committed to providing a safe, harassment-free working environment.”
Two other firefighter/paramedics — John Roche and Josh Loney — were implicated in the abusive behavior but no action was taken against them.
“In reviewing the situation with Josh Loney and John Roche’s interview, I believe that there is insufficient evidence to support the hearing officer’s recommendation,” Rivers said. “I’m going to propose that we reject the recommendation in its entirety.”
Taranto said, “I’ll agree with that, but I’m still disappointed that he didn’t protect the firefighter or even stop what was happening, and I will agree that there is insufficient evidence.”
In a separate and unrelated incident, Firefighter/Paramedic Katie Townsley was charged with insubordination and department policy infractions.
The investigative report states that Townsley had been seen with her husband in her dorm room, but “there was no testimony indicating any inappropriate conduct occurred,” and “Townsley admitted to being in her dorm room with her husband, (but) she indicated nothing inappropriate occurred.”
Other issues indicated in the report include failing to follow orders, policy guidelines and suggestions, not submitting military orders, receiving a tattoo without first seeking permission, and not doing house chores.
“Based on what has all been presented, Firefighter Townsley believes there’s been poor communication as well as poor judgment,” Rivers said. “With that being said, I feel at this point there is an opportunity to retrain (her) and not terminate. I would recommend a suspension of 60 days with no pay, and a last chance agreement as well.”
“I think there could have been better communication, and I appreciated the fact that she is looking toward better training,” Taranto added. “I can agree with (the) suggestion of unpaid 60 calendar days (suspension) and last chance agreement as well.”
All investigations were conducted by Fire Chief Matthew Noble and Human Resources/Communications Manager Amanda Sheterom.
Trustee Lisa Knapp was not in attendance based on the advice of her attorney.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.