The San Francisco Fire Department is feeling the heat today, as the former head of its arson task force claimed publicly that he was forced out of the position after repeatedly voicing concerns that the unit was understaffed and overworked.
Captain John Darmanin, who until very recently was in charge of arson investigations for SFFD, asserts that he was removed from his position because of his public criticisms of the Fire Department and its seeming inability to clear an ever-growing backlog of unsolved arson cases — KQED News put the number of open cases at more than 300 as of this past July.
Those include a high-profile string of car arsons around the Castro neighborhood late last year, for which a previously convicted killer, David Munoz Diaz, could be a suspect, however he has not been charged in any of them. Diaz arrested in January for a house arson in the neighborhood for which there was more evidence, and he'd been convicted last year in a case involving a sexual encounter gone wrong in which a trash can was apparently used to destroy evidence and burn a strangled body. Not long after he was released from jail in September, the Castro arsons began, and there have been none since his January arrest.
A spokesperson for the SFFD confirmed to KQED News that Captain Darmanin was reassigned, but would not go into detail as to the reason. However, Fire Commission President Andrea Evans was adamant that it was not a retaliatory move by the Department in an attempt to silence or punish Darmanin.
“I would never condone any kind of retaliation for that kind of thing. I think it’s critically important for the department to move forward and advance that all members feel comfortable coming forward,” Evans told KQED.
Captain Darmanin, however, isn't buying it.
“Without a doubt I was pushed out. The department told me to stop asking for additional staffing,” he told KQED.
“My refusal to stay silent, my insistence that we get additional staffing, my comments that I made in a public forum at the Fire Commission meetings in recent months were not well received,” Darmanin continued.
Minutes from the February 12th Fire Commission meeting where Darmanin spoke confirm that he voiced his concerns.
"[Darmanin] stated he has concerns about his staff," the minutes read. "They go above and beyond working very hard and are being forced to work overtime because there is not enough staff to maintain a proper level at the Arson Unit. He added that the Department has been very responsive, but they have fallen short of what is needed. He stated that they need help now."
A spokeswoman for SFFD, Lieutenant Mindy Talmadge, wrote to KQED News to make it known that the Department has indeed hired more staffers since the February hearing where Darmanin spoke.
As for Captian John Darmanin? He's now on leave.