SFFD: Firefighters in alleged brawl are on paid leave

Neither of the firefighters who allegedly fought while on duty in a station house are currently working, but both are still being paid by the San Francisco Fire Department.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Tuesday that the two men, identified by sources within the department as Joel Soto and Bela Carreira, are not working, but that she “did not actively modify any of their roles.”

The lieutenant in charge of the station when the fight happened is still at work, Hayes-White said.

A May 20 altercation between Soto and Carreira in Station 32 in Bernal Heights allegedly turned violent, leaving Soto unconscious with a gash on his face and a broken jaw and nose, according to multiple sources within the department.

The station’s management allegedly failed to report the fight to department administration, initially claiming that the injuries had resulted from a fall, sources said. Hayes-White said Tuesday that her office had only learned of the alleged incident on June 15.

The City has a provision in its charter that allows the head of a department to suspend without pay workers who are being investigated on a disciplinary matter, The City’s Department of Human Resources head Phil Ginsburg said Wednesday.

When a series of controversial videos made by members of the Police Department came to light in December 2005, Chief Heather Fong initially suspended 24 officers while an investigation commenced.

Hayes-White said Wednesday that it is not Fire Department policy to immediately suspend employees who are the subject of an investigation. “I don’t want to act prematurely,” she said.

Upon completion of the investigation, Hayes-White said, the department will evaluate whether the time off was appropriate, and may decide to seek advice from the City Attorney’s office.

On Tuesday, Hayes-White said, “I don’t believe they’re not at work because of the investigation. There are other reasons not to be in work.” Those reasons, she said, mayinclude medical leave.

Mayor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday refused to comment on the matter, saying only that he had met with the chief and that he was aware of the alleged fight and delay. “I won’t conclude any cover-up,” he said.

Hayes-White said an investigation into the matter has been fast-tracked. “The allegations are, in my mind, fairly significant, very serious and that’s why we’re trying to move this thing along,” she said Tuesday.

amartin@examiner.com

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