The Omaha Police Department will conduct an investigation into photos that show a woman posing with firefighters and standing on a firetruck at an Omaha fire station.
The two photos were emailed to the Mayor's Hotline email account on Monday from a sender who said they were taken during a bachelorette party on Saturday.
Mayor Jean Stothert called the photos “inappropriate” during a Tuesday briefing on her 2014 budget proposal. Firefighters union President Steve LeClair said Stothert was on “a public fishing expedition.”
The mayor said she hadn't spoken with Fire Chief Mike McDonnell about the incident but had sent him an email to request a department investigation.
Hours later, however, Stothert changed course, announcing that she had directed police investigators to take over the inquiry.
Marty Bilek, Stothert's chief of staff, said the decision to involve police was made “for the sake of fairness and impartiality,” given recent dust-ups between the Mayor's Office and fire administrators.
There is currently no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, Bilek said.
LeClair said police resources aren't needed to investigate potential rules violations within the Fire Department because it already has trained law enforcement officers assigned to its own internal affairs division.
“This is grandstanding at its grossest level by the mayor,” LeClair said.
“And it's apparently some grab to fan the flames of hysteria that everything is wrong in the Fire Department, because of some feud that the mayor and fire chief wish to perpetuate.
“I've seen the pictures. What we're dealing with is the possibility of a simple workplace rule violation.”
One photo shows a woman in a short dress standing with two firefighters, who each are wearing strings of beads around their necks. The second shows the same woman standing on a firetruck. The email was not signed and did not indicate the location of the fire station.
Stothert said the city would take any necessary action after the investigation was complete.
“We will make sure that the investigation is thorough,” she said before the probe was turned over to police. “We need to find out where this happened, who the firefighters are, who the people are involved, what our policy is. But I guarantee you we will address it.”
Stothert acknowledged that local fire stations are frequently visited by the public and that firefighters sometimes allow citizens to explore fire equipment.
“We have children doing this on field trips all the time,” she said. “It depends on who was at that fire station and what they were doing. That's what we need to find out with the investigation.”
“Definitely people are allowed to come into the fire station. There's field trips and things like that there all the time,” she said. “But I don't think this was an instance of a field trip.”