A former Austin Fire Department lieutenant who has abruptly retired is under investigation amid allegations that he secretly set up recording equipment in the women’s locker room of a fire station.
Officials confirmed that the Austin police special investigations unit, which handles cases involving public employees, is investigating the accusations and are considering criminal charges against the former supervisor, including the charge of improper photography, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years behind bars.
Officials did not name the man because he has not been charged and because the investigation is ongoing. They also declined to identify the fire station where the incident is alleged to have occurred.
“All allegations are taken seriously,” said Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle Tanzola. “Chief Kerr, as a female fire chief and female firefighter, would say any allegation that specifically involves a female member of our department causes her additional concern.”
Most of the city’s 46 fire station have areas designated for women firefighters, and those that do not have such facilities yet are in the final phases of adding them, Tanzola said. As of Aug. 31, 73 of the city’s 1,007 firefighters were women. They represent 7.2 percent of the department, which is twice the national average.
Fire union president Bob Nicks said, “I can tell you what is alleged is not by any means pervasive behavior in the fire department. Austin firefighters are serious about creating an inclusive environment, especially for females in a traditionally male-dominated field.”
In the past couple of years, the department has revamped its sexual harassment policy to include better definitions and descriptions of what activities constitute harassment, including those that may be criminal.
The policy informed firefighters that, even when off-duty, inappropriate actions could be a violation of departmental policy and made it clear that everyone has a duty to report sexual harassment.