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Investigation clears Okla. fire department, chief of alleged wrongdoing

Norman’s city manager said a former employee’s fraud accusations were without merit


Photo/Norman Fire Department

By Mindy Ragan Wood
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN, Okla. — The Norman Fire Department and its leader, accused of fraud by a former employee, have been cleared of wrongdoing, correspondence obtained by The Transcript shows.

Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle, in a memo to the City Council on Thursday, concluded “the allegations of fraud were determined to be without merit.”

“The Attorney General’s Office has closed the file on the subject so no further action will be taken in the matter. I also consider this matter closed.”

Fire Chief Travis King and fellow administrators were accused of “covertly” directing staff to alter arrival times on emergency calls in order to obtain an improved Insurance Services Office rating (ISO), the memo indicated.

The city received the highest possible ISO ranking in February 2021.

The ISO is a private company that voluntarily rates more than 50,000 fire departments nationwide.

“Less than 1% of them have a Class 1 rating, making Norman a preeminent ISO rated fire department in the United States, Pyle wrote in the memo.

Pyle stated the arrival times did not affect the the department’s score since ISO based its rating in the Deployment Analysis category on response distances traveled by pumpers and ladder/service apparatus.

“ISO used the percentage of the community within specified response distances of pumpers and ladder/service apparatus,” he wrote. “This information cannot be falsified.”

A former employee alleged in a September 2019 email he and other staffers were directed to “carefully inspect times for accuracy when completing their reports” related to response times.

Pyle’s memo stated an email encouraging accuracy for arrival times was not evidence of fraud.

Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton told The Transcript a search of emails in the city’s database indicated fire personnel were getting used “to new technology” and using it correctly “is just a learning process.”

A second fraud allegation, made in December 2019, pointed to evidence of a “ghost truck” scheme, which involves falsely reporting that employees or equipment responded to a fire scene, according to the memo.

“Such a scheme could have an impact on the points ISO grants for Credit for Company Personnel,” the memo stated.

Pyle called the allegation “baseless” because “the email submitted in support of this allegation does not support the existence of a scheme to falsify records.”

The memo also addresses a “Wall of Shame,” which some firefighters have told The Transcript was used to denigrate the service of those who retired following a mental health diagnosis.

Firefighters who requested anonymity told The Transcript their T-shirts, masks and other gear were haphazardly hung on a wall.

In the memo, Pyle attaches an email from King to administrators Greg Skelly, Mark Castell, Joel Chesser, Mike Wilson and Gale Hicks dated June 15, 2020.

It directs them not to tolerate such behavior.

“It has been brought to my attention that there was a wall of shame at Station #1 that had former employees’ uniforms hanging on it,” the email stated. “This falls below the level of professionalism that I expect at the Norman Fire Department. Please do not allow such things to be tolerated.”

Knighton said King was unaware of it.

“My understanding is that somebody called the HR (human resources) department and complained about that,” Knighton said. “That’s when King issued the email.”

Knighton said the wall was never intended to shame anyone.

“My understanding is that started out as something that was supposed to be honoring those employees whose shirts were on the wall, not something that was supposed to be a wall of shame,” he said. “That’s how people were construing what those shirts meant.”

Firefighters told The Transcript that they complained about it repeatedly after it was erected, but it was not removed until a firefighter threatened to share the image with The Transcript.


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