MFD Chief Rohlfing speaks out five months after Engine 32 vandalism

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Five Milwaukee Fire Department firefighters were suspended and two were fired in a case involving vandalism at MFD's Engine 32 that occurred in September of 2013. It has been five months since the vandalism occurred, and for the first time since the case wrapped up, Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing is speaking with FOX6 News about what happened.

In this case, nine firefighters were immediately placed on suspension during an investigation.

Eventually, 30-day suspensions were handed down to five firefighters, two probationary firefighters were fired, and it was ruled two firefighters will keep their jobs as long as they complete a special program.

Two other firefighters allegedly involved have retired.

The complaints against the five firefighters suspended in this case detail what the Fire and Police Commission says occurred inside Engine 32, located on North 30th Street in Milwaukee.

The complaints indicate Engine House 32 was inspected by MFD staff on the morning of September 29th, due to concern that the firehouse may not have been left in good order — and may have been damaged by personnel that were permanently transferred from the Engine House to other work locations as of that date.

The complaints say MFD Command Staff documented “extensive evidence of vandalism and disorder in the firehouse that morning.”

For five months, the Milwaukee Fire Department has been dealing with the fallout from this incident.

"It paints us all with that bad brush," Rohlfing said.

Chief Rohlfing says the firefighters involved in the vandalism were upset about the sudden retirement of their captain, and others being transferred from the Engine House.

"We had recognized that maybe there was an underlying attitude there," Rohlfing said.

What MFD Command Staff found inside Engine House 32 on the morning of September 29th is documented in complaints against the five firefighters suspended in this case -- and includes the following:

    "That shouldn't be happening in our organization," Rohlfing said.

    Chief Rohlfing says he is eager to close this chapter, and move forward.

    He is planning department-wide training in the spring that will focus on professional behavior and ethics.

    In the future, he says he wants to see his firefighters out in the community more, interacting with people.

    "I'd like to say 98% of our employees come to work every day. They love their job. They're compassionate and they're there to serve the citizens of Milwaukee. And when the alarms go off, they're there and they're trying to do their best," Rohlfing said.

    Engine 32 is still one of Milwaukee's busiest fire houses, and now, has an entirely new workforce.

    "The crew there now are excellent individuals who are doing an absolutely terrific job," Rohlfing said.

    Rohlfing says a lot of the department's time and energy has been spent on this case -- and says now it's time to focus it all somewhere else.

    "There's a lot of good things happening in the Milwaukee Fire Department. We have a lot of really excellent people, a lot of bright people and I'm proud to be here," Rohlfing said.

    Chief Rohlfing says wrapping up this case took longer than he would have liked, as he had to work with a board of investigation, city attorneys and the Fire and Police Commission.