Fraud tip exposes Ore. FFs using station facilities to wash personal vehicles

Portland Fire & Rescue officials say cleaning cars is “broadly accepted,” but they plan to develop a new policy in consultation with the city’s labor relations staff


Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. —Portland firefighters are in the hot seat for frequently using their fire stations as a personal car wash, the city’s elected watchdog said Thursday.

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said an investigation by her office found members of Portland Fire & Rescue had violated rules against the personal use of city resources after receiving permission to do so from their bosses.

“Any single instance of washing a vehicle may seem insubstantial, but it has the potential to be a widespread practice among hundreds of employees if condoned by managers,” said City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.
“Any single instance of washing a vehicle may seem insubstantial, but it has the potential to be a widespread practice among hundreds of employees if condoned by managers,” said City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero. (Photo/Mark Graves via MCT)

A tip to the city’s Fraud Hotline prompted an initial probe, which began as a look into whether an on-duty firefighter last June had been sudsing his own vehicle at the station where he worked.

Fire officials later confirmed that the practice is “entrenched and broadly accepted” throughout the bureau, the auditor’s office said.

“Any single instance of washing a vehicle may seem insubstantial, but it has the potential to be a widespread practice among hundreds of employees if condoned by managers,” wrote Hull Caballero. “This appears to be happening at the fire bureau.”

Portland’s watchdog poured cold water on the tradition, warning that personal use of city water and facilities were not only a waste of public resources but also conveyed an unseemly double standard to residents.

“It is unlikely the bureau would ignore a community member who attempted to wash a personal vehicle at a fire station,” said Hull Caballero.

Portlanders saw their water rates increase 7.8% last year and the typical household now pays about $48.39 a month, according to city data.

Creeping utility costs mean the average Portland household pays nearly $200 more annually for water and sewage than it did three years ago, the data shows.

The city auditor has recommended the fire bureau adopt a policy that clarifies what is and isn’t considered personal use of city resources and for bureau supervisors to enforce it.

Fire officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but told the auditor’s office they intended to develop a new policy in consultation with the city’s labor relations staff.

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