SFFD pair accused of cover-up suspended

Two San Francisco firefighters accused of helping in the cover-up of a fight between two other firefighters while on duty have been suspended.

Firefighter/paramedic Michael Hoelsken and firefighter/paramedic Chase Wilson were on duty in Station 32 in Bernal Heights the night that firefighter Bela Carreira, a five-year department veteran, allegedly hit firefighter Joel Soto, who is in his first year with the department.

An investigation into the matter led Chief Joanne Hayes-White to call for a 10-day suspension for Hoelsken and an eight-day suspension for Wilson for participating in a cover-up of the violent incident. The fight at the stationhouse happened the night of May 20, but the department brass did not hear of it until June 15.

The Fire Commission was notified of the suspensions Thursday.

Carreira faces termination for allegedly hitting Soto, breaking a bone in his face and giving him a contusion on the back of his head, among other injuries.

Lt. Tom Masterson, now retired, had command of the station the night of the fight and reported Soto’s injuries as the result of a fall.

A sixth department member was on duty in the station and has been charged with acts detrimental to the welfare of the department and providing false reports and false testimony — the same charge as Hoelsken and Wilson — but has opted to accept a “Skelly meeting,” wherein he can offer further explanation in a bid to lessen his discipline.

Hoelsken received a longer sentence than Wilson, Hayes-White said Thursday, because he submitted misleading documentation.

“I think it’s an appropriate penalty,” Hayes-White said. “The reason for the discipline is to alter the behavior for the better. They received penalties and we’ll move on from there.”

San Francisco Firefighters Association President John Hanley said the union would have preferred counseling sessions to suspensions. “In the past, counseling sessions have been a far better punishment because the member more fully understands the consequences, rather than using the whip and the brick of suspensions,” he said.

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