Following an investigation into allegations of misused funds and phone sex while on duty, Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets decided Monday to terminate Robert Lanz for “violations of multiple departmental rules and regulations” according to a press release issued by the village.
Village Manager Larry Deetjen said last month that Sheets undertook the investigation after a financial review by an outside firm called in by the Oak Lawn Firefighters Union “substantiated reports that there was a misuse of large sums of money” by an individual over the past year.
The fact that Lanz, a former head of Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Local 3405, was being investigated for possibly calling phone-sex hotlines while on duty came to light at a Dec. 17 hearing in Bridgeview Courthouse on a petition for an emergency restraining order that Lanz filed.
Lanz had sought the restraining order, which a judge denied, after Sheets asked him to produce his credit card and cellphone records in order to get to the bottom of the discrepancies. Sheets then made his decision after interviewing Lanz on Jan. 7.
“The Oak Lawn firehouses are not places for reckless animal house behavior,” said Sheets.
“While we are on duty, firefighters are expected to devote their full attention to the needs of the community. Mr. Lanz’s conduct fell far short of that expectation and he is no longer an Oak Lawn employee,” said Sheets in the statement issued Monday.
Sheets had originally planned to interrogate Lanz on Dec. 18 but Lanz’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, argued at the hearing that Lanz was given less than two weeks to schedule the interview date, and his union representation would not have been available.
The fire chief also said Monday that there was evidence that Lanz repeatedly lied during the investigation.
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury expressed support for Sheets’ decision to fire Lanz.
“Consideration for resident safety made this difficult decision a simple one,” she said. “When our loved ones are most vulnerable, we must have confidence that those attending to their emergency needs are focused on the task at hand.”
“Residents must respect and trust their first responders, and the conduct exhibited by Mr. Lanz greatly diminishes that trust. It also diminishes the reputation of those who do maintain high standards of integrity and ethical conduct,” said the mayor.
Lanz and Union Local 3405 have filed a grievance challenging the termination, which village officials have said they will fight if it goes to arbitration.
“We hope that the Union says in a loud, clear voice, ‘we will not accept this type of behavior in the firehouse.’ But if the union does proceed to arbitration, the village is prepared to fully defend Chief Sheets’ decision,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen in a statement.
Citing “a long pattern of reckless animal house behavior,” village officials pointed out that in 2010, the village paid $1.8 million to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a female member of the fire department after semen was found on her bedding.
Deetjen said that a security firm was hired at that time, and found three computers installed in firehouses without the authorization of the village IT department, and inappropriate material was found on them.
“The current administration is committed to eradicating this type of behavior from the workplace,” said Deetjen.