More than seven years after she was promoted as the first woman battalion chief in Columbus, Janice Bruner was dismissed Friday after a two-week investigation found her untruthful on whether she responded to an Easter fire at Brighton Park Apartments.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who serves as the city’s public safety director, said Tuesday that Bruner was given five days to present a reason to the city why she shouldn’t be dismissed from the position she has held since November 2007. An investigation launched April 6, a day after the fire, revealed that Bruner made false statements on whether she responded to the fire at 6254 Warm Springs Road.
“The complaint came in that she had declined to go on a call,” the mayor said. “Whatever the circumstances, it could have been handled much differently.”
Bruner, 48, was interviewed twice in connection with responding to the fire. During the first interview, she insisted on certain facts in connection with the fire call, but they changed in a follow-up interview. “On her re-interview, she stated that in fact those were not true and in fact she had stated falsehoods at that time,” Tomlinson said.
As a battalion chief with the Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Bruner is the highest ranking official over firefighters at a fire scene. She is required to respond to fires and direct the firefighting process. If the battalion chief is unable to perform that duty, the mayor said the procedure requires a call to the higher commander to get a replacement.
“It’s one of those extreme lapse of judgment and it’s the sort of thing that we can’t have flexibility on, particularly in a public safety department particularly at such a high-ranking level and when the nature of their business is conducting formal investigations and providing factual information on which investigations are based,” Tomlinson said.
Robert Futrell, deputy chief of operations, said Bruner was assigned as battalion chief working out of Station No. 12 on Cargo Drive in northeast Columbus.
Firefighters can end up in court during investigations, and they have to file formal documents. “If there is a record of falsehoods in a formal investigation, it could jeopardize a fire investigation,” the mayor said.
This is not the first time Bruner has been involved in an investigation. A year after she was promoted, Bruner filed a fair treatment complaint with the city detailing how she found 2-inch screws in the tires of her city-issued Ford Expedition. She also alleged altered entries on a firefighter’s timecard.
The results of that investigation went unnoticed by Columbus Council for almost 17 months. Then-Mayor Jim Wetherington said he should have made sure the 10-member council received a copy of the February 2009 report. Fire Chief Jeff Meyer said there was no way to determine how tacks got into the tires but noted the incident hadn’t been repeated.
Bruner who earns $65,418 a year wasn’t reached for comment late Tuesday.
By this Friday, the mayor said Bruner can come forward with information to lessen the severity of the city’s action. “She also may be given an opportunity to resign given her lengthy tenure with us and services at such a high level," Tomlinson said.