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Fire chief questioned over gasoline use

Submitted by on 1, August 17, 2010 – 1:00 pm14 Comments

A witness shot this photo of what they said is Fire Chief David Kapler filling a blue BMW coupe with gas at Fire Station One on Saturday, August 14.

City officials are looking into claims that Fire Chief David Kapler used the Fire Department’s gas pumps to fuel personal vehicles, something critics said is against city policies but Kapler said is permitted under his employment agreement.

Two witnesses told The Island that on Saturday afternoon, they saw Kapler and a female companion pull into Fire Station One in a blue BMW coupe and fill the tank. They said Kapler signed the station’s fuel log using his initials and that he wrote his radio identifier in the place where firefighters typically write in the number of the vehicle being fueled. They said he wrote that he had pumped 11 gallons of gas.

“It definitely didn’t look like he was going on official business,” one of the witnesses said.

One of the witnesses said that they had previously seen Kapler fill the gas tank of a Honda Ridgeline truck he uses in lieu of a city vehicle, which the city apparently outfitted with radios, lights and a siren for his official use. But that witness said this was the first time they had seen Kapler fill up another vehicle at Station One, which sits at the corner of Park Street and Encinal Avenue, across the street from an AM/PM gas station.

But a third witness said they had seen Kapler fill up personal vehicles four or five times since he became Alameda’s fire chief, in October 2007. That witness said they had seen Kapler fill the tank of an all-terrain “quad” vehicle, and they supplied a photo of Kapler sitting on the “quad” at Station One that they said was taken after a fill-up in December 2007. (Kapler denied he filled the quad with the department’s gas.)

That witness said they had seen Kapler fill up the BMW at Fire Station Four on Bay Farm Island, on some of the occasions at 11 or 11:30 at night, which they thought was “strange.” They said Kapler failed to log the fill-up on one occasion.

This photo purports to show a log kept at Fire Station One documenting gasoline use, which witnesses said Fire Chief David Kapler signed after filling up a BMW coupe.

“It didn’t seem like anything before. We knew he could fill his personal vehicle for business,” the witness said. “But when he started bringing in (the BMW), people started to question it.”

The witnesses asked that their names not be used in this story because they feared their employment could be jeopardized if they were quoted.

Kapler said Tuesday that use of the department’s gasoline is allowed under his employment contract with the city because he uses his personal vehicle for city business, instead of driving a city-owned car.

“I have two vehicles, and I use either,” Kapler said. “I’m always on duty, so whatever vehicle I’m in, I’m available to respond.”

But Mayor Beverly Johnson, who on Tuesday saw photos of Kapler filling up the BMW, said the claims caused her “a high level of concern.”

“People should not be filling personal vehicles at city facilities. There would be no reason for someone to be filling a personal vehicle at a city facility,” said Johnson, who said Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant will be looking into the claims and reading over Kapler’s contract. Gallant could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

The department’s house rules, which were provided to The Island, prohibit misuse of city property.

Kapler’s employment agreement allows him to use his private vehicle in lieu of a city-owned one when he is away from the department and on call, an option he chose to exercise. The agreement grants him a $250 a month car allowance but appears silent on the use of the department’s gasoline.

Domenick Weaver, president of Alameda’s firefighters union, said the city outfitted Kapler’s Honda Ridgeline truck for his on-call use. The agreement does not appear to list a specific vehicle for Kapler’s on-call use, though Johnson said Kapler’s on-call vehicle is a truck.

“Despite the odd vehicle arrangement he has, the vehicle I saw is not the vehicle referred to in his letter,” said Johnson, who said the arrangement was not okayed by the City Council.

Under former City Manager Debra Kurita, the city discontinued its practice of allowing other public safety management to take home city vehicles, Johnson confirmed.

Weaver said that if anyone else in the department were caught using the department’s fuel for a personal vehicle while they were off duty, that it would “probably be a terminable offense.”

“I am absolutely shocked and disappointed by what I’ve been shown. I have never seen or heard of anyone using the city fuel for their own activities. These photos show the head of the Fire Department out of uniform, fueling a non-city vehicle with city fuel while he is off duty and on a Saturday afternoon,” Weaver said. “This certainly warrants an investigation to ensure that the community is not being taken advantage of, as well as appropriate discipline by the city manager.”

14 Comments »

  • Tim Downes says:

    Really?

    This is written like he was molesting kids or robbing banks, everyone take a deep breath and relax.

    How about we do like they taught in college and get all the facts first before we start find official inflamatory opinions…see if he did have that written into his agreement before everyone starts freaking out.

    If it is in his contract will all these “opinions” be publicly corrected? Naw…

    Sheesh… so puritan.

  • WILLOW says:

    Either fire him or give me a fill up on the house.

  • Pete says:

    I tip my hat to the whistle blowers. However it turns out, we need more concerned citizens like them.

  • Karen says:

    Even if it is legit., it’s a perk that should be withdrawn.

  • Husky Gurrrrl says:

    There’s legal, then there’s ethical. I doubt that Mr. Kapler broke any laws, but he definitely did something unethical. I agree with the quoted union president that if any low level city employee did this, they’d be given a pink slip. Furthermore, at $200k per year, he can bloody well afford 11 gallons of gas at $3.17 that the Safeway or Arco in Alameda are charging.

  • J says:

    Nice. SF Gate picked up the story.

  • Tom charron says:

    If he has it in his contract then ok.
    But if he does not and actually uses City Petrol then this is just another example of forepersons bleeding our fair city.
    Hopefully we won’t suffer the same fate as Vallejo with supporting out of sight salaries and retirement forepersons.
    Tom Charron

  • Tom charron says:

    Correction
    My last comment. “forepersons”. Correction = “Firepersons”
    Tom zcharron

  • Michael says:

    In fairness, it is possible for anyone to have almost any kind of contract.

    If it is in his contract, it makes me wonder a few things. Is there is no limit to public employee perks? Sorry, but I don’t think of firemen as generally lacking in benefits.

    Compared to the private sector, for example, can a store manager help himself to any amount of store product? Not in a store that hopes to continue to exist.

    In the private sector you keep a mileage log, separating business and personal miles. Then, one gets reimbursed for business miles. Does the fire chief also get reimbursed for mileage on top of the free gas? Does the fire chief pay income taxes on the free gas, net of any business use?

    Maybe it’s all as right as rain, but it sure doesn’t play well.

  • WILLOW says:

    I don’t see a contract to the contrary. He’s a liar and a thief, literally. Throw him out!

  • Tom charron says:

    Firemen/women And the City of Alameda.
    Long term Fiscal Issues vs Use of Alameda City Petroleum!

    Whether the Alameda Fire Chief has ” contract rights” to use City Petroleum in his personal vehicles is of much interest but, the real fiscal issue for Alameda is the “sky-high” salaries we pay Firemen/women and the unreasonable “3%@50” retirement benefits Firemen/women have secured from the CalPers Retirement system over the past few decades.

    Fireman/women with 30 years in the system are elgible to retire @ 3% x 30years x highest salary.

    This means that a Fireman/woman such as Chief Kaplan could retire (if he/she has 30 years in the fire service) with 3%/year worked x 30years x $201,000/year highest salary =$180,900.00/year.

    This excessive long term retirement cost will be born by all the cities who have employed such a fireman. Retirement costs along with the current “wildly high” salary and benefit packages have driven cities like Vallejo California into Bankruptcy!!

    Fire personell cry danger, death risk, high stress and numerous other reasons they deserve high pay. Well if this is the case we should pay all those young men and women currently fighting for our Armed Forces in the same manner. Just ask a Marine Corporal what he/ she is paid to risk life and limb and cerebral shock in our current far flung wars per year! A mere pittance compared to what we pay all Alameda Firemen/women.

    So I hope Chief Kaplan has it in his contract to use City Petrol. If he actually did use same W/O legal right then subject him to the appropriate legal consequences.

    But just remember the City of Alameda Petroleum cost to fill tanks is pale in contrast to salary and retirement payouts to CalPers our fair City will/is pay/paying out to our “overpaid” Firemen/women.

  • K Sanderberg says:

    The IRS has strict regulations regarding auto allowance and mileage reimbursement for employees and employment contracts are not immune to those regulations. Car allowance is granted for use of personal vehicles and covers fuel and maintenance. Likewise, the IRS allows for mileage reimbursement if an employee uses a personal vehicle for job-related business and it is reviewed annually to ensure that the reimbursement covers the same items. This reimbursement is only allowed under an accountable system whereby the employee must declare the number of miles driven in order to be reimbursed.

    Employees who accept an allowance and fill-up personal vehicles which are not used in the course of their jobs are violating every aspect of taxable, reportable income. Likewise, if an employee is allowed to use the employer’s vehicle as a take-home vehicle because they are on call, there is a formula for calculating the taxable fringe benefit which must be declared as income tax. In instances where an employee receives an auto allowance for using a personal vehicle but chooses to drive a city vehicle which they fuel up at a gas station (instead of the City pumps), they should not expect to be reimbursed for the fuel purchase while receiving the monthly allowance.

    This has become a major issue for cities as finances gets tight and perks become more apparent and is something that should come under review when determining how tax dollars serve the citizenry.

  • AFD FF says:

    As an anonymous member of the Alameda Fire Department, I have to say, given with the recent discovery of Chief Kapler’s Douglas County findings, it’s time to again look for another fire chief. This time, I hope that city council and management will be more vigilant and careful of their selection. Why look any further than who is the current management that currently exists?

    While searching for a new fire chief, let’s also look for a new city manager and city attorney. And, I hope the voters of Alameda will use some common sense as to who they elect this November for Mayor and City Council. The City really needs a cleaning out of its ineffective management.

    Those of us who live, work, recreate, and learn, are fortunate to have such great city services. It’s not inexpensive to maintain these services, however, when you live outside of Alameda, you should be thankful for these great services to the citizens.

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