Fire chief questioned over gasoline use
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.
“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.”