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3 Ill. firefighters disciplined for explicit selfies at work

The three firefighters engaged in the inappropriate conduct between 2010 and 2013; each were given a month-long suspension and demoted

By Mike Danahey
The Courier-News

ELGIN, Ill. — Three members of the Elgin Fire Department are each facing monthlong suspensions and demotions after an internal investigation into sexually explicit photos and videos made while they were at work, according to documents obtained by The Courier-News.

Lt. Amanda Bruce, Firefighter Eric McMahon and Firefighter John Sardina also could be fired if they engage in similar actions at work over the next three years or if they violate any other terms of the disciplinary agreements each signed Tuesday after an investigation that started in August 2014, according to the documents obtained Wednesday via a Freedom of Information request.

The agreements with the firefighters and their union call for Bruce to be demoted to firefighter/paramedic. McMahon had to relinquish his stipend assignment as a mechanic, and Sardina relinquished his stipend as a driver, according to city documents.

“It’s a fair agreement,” Mayor Dave Kaptain said. “Their behavior was an embarrassment to themselves, to the city and to the fire department.”

Fire Chief John Fahy said that at no time was the public’s safety in jeopardy, but the public’s trust was compromised by what the three did. He believes the discipline is appropriate.

“These three each worked about 13,000 hours over the years these incidents happened,” Fahy said. “The videos and photos took 5 to 10 minutes of their time at work. In that time frame, Elgin firefighters put in about 1.5 million hours of work. It wouldn’t be fair to judge all of them by these 5 to 10 minutes.”

Tim O’Neil, attorney for the three disciplined firefighters, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Sardina and McMahon also could not be reached for comment. Bruce declined comment.

According to the memorandum obtained by The Courier-News through a Freedom of Information Act request, Bruce contacted the Elgin Police Department in August 2014 because she believed her then-husband, who also is an Elgin firefighter, had gained unauthorized access to personal information, including some photos and videos.

Bruce was unsure if she wanted to make a police report at the time, the document states, but contacted Elgin Police again in October 2014 to follow through with the matter, the memorandum states. Police obtained the materials from an attorney in October 2014. After the investigation concluded in April 2015, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office said it would not pursue charges.

However, during the course of the criminal investigation, Elgin Professional Standards Officer James Barnes learned some of the material depicted inappropriate on-duty activity that happened between 2010 and 2013, according to the memorandum. The investigation involved a forensic examination to learn the dates and times the photos and videos were created.

Fahy said Bruce’s husband had told fire officials about the alleged misconduct about 2 1/2 years ago. Fahy said he talked with each of the three and told them “if the alleged conduct is true, it is to cease immediately.” But Barnes determined that the conversations did not amount to discipline, according to the memo.

Elgin city manager Sean Stegall said he and Fahy arrived at the disciplinary measures together. Stegall said Bruce’s former husband was not involved in the process.

Kaptain noted the matter offered yet another example of how social media, smartphones and other technology is impacting how people behave.

“The world has changed here. Everyone is carrying a phone with a camera,” Kaptain said. “Video and email don’t go away. They can take on a life of their own.”

“We’re still in the infancy stage of all this technology,” Fahy said. “There are consequences to using it.”

Fahy said he and other upper level fire department staff were meeting with each shift about what happened, about the fire station being a public space and to educate department members about being smart about using smartphones and the Internet.

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