Oregon fire captain arrested for third DUI to be demoted, but why won’t chief fire him?
PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — It’s something the chief of Portland Fire and Rescue said she never thought would happen: a fire captain arrested three times for driving drunk. Now, she says his criminal behavior off the clock will mean a new policy for all Portland firefighters.
“We didn’t have any policy,” Portland Fire Chief Erin Janssens said. “I don’t think anybody ever imagined that someone would be arrested for DUII repeatedly.”
But someone has. Officers have arrested a Portland fire captain three times for being drunk behind the wheel. Janssens says, because of that, it’s time to put new disciplinary standards in place.
“I think having a clear policy is going to be helpful for everyone,” she said.
There currently is no policy that says how firefighters should be disciplined for DUII.
Last March when Robert Hutchens caused a wreck near the coast and racked up his third drunk driving arrest, he had not been punished by the bureau before.
Wednesday, the chief made an agreement to demote Hutchens from fire captain to firefighter. It also says if he gets arrested for driving drunk in the next five years he’ll be fired.
“It is a very significant demotion. It is just short of being terminated,” she said. “We felt that this was the most likely discipline that would stick given the current circumstances of no previous discipline.”
She said part of the reason he wasn’t punished in the past was because there is no DUII policy in place. She also said there is no policy, because cases like Hutchens are rare.
“I don’t think it’s been a problem for repeated offenses,” Janssens said.
But, court records show, Hutchens isn’t the only Portland firefighter with one or more drunk driving arrests. Many of those occurred before Janssens became fire chief.
“We need to have a policy and we need to make it very clear what the consequences will be,” she said.
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman oversees the department. He, Janssens and the fire union will work together to decide what new guidelines may be established.
“I just want to make sure there are firm consequences in place for any offense related to substance abuse,” Saltzman said.
When that may happen, and what the policy will be, neither office can say at this point.
“I feel apologetic to our public that this happened, that one of our firefighters had three DUIs. It’s just not acceptable,” Saltzman said.
“We owe it to the public and we owe it to ourselves to be safe, contributing members of the community every day of our lives,” Janssens said. “That’s part of our commitment to the public.”