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A must see example of leadership & handling the bad news. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings uncovers dirt & then punishes himself.

Previous coverage of this story from FireTruckBlog.com here & here

By now I am sure you are all aware of the recent to do involving the Los Angeles Fire Department and female porn star Charley Chase. It was sort of old news when a Los Angeles TV station uncovered the video of Chase posing naked on an LAFD rig. The video had been made in 2008 and the fact that it was that long ago put it beyond the statute of limitations for disciplining the firefighters involved.

Now, comes word of an even older incident. One that occurred 13 years ago. And it involves the current LAFD chief, Brian Cummings. Cummings was the captain of the Venice fire station when the firefighters asked a bikini clad woman walking by to pose with them. According to KTTV-TV, at least one photo was taken of the woman appearing topless while on the fire truck.

So, who broke this news? Who was dredging up this dirt on a fire chief who took office just a month ago? The best we can tell from the articles we've read so far, the answer is Brian Cummings. Yes, it appears the chief blew the whistle on himself. In addition, despite the incident being well beyond that two year statute of limitations, the chief has also punished himself. He will be doing 120 hours of community service at a women's shelter and a youth mentoring program.

Here's some of what Chief Cummings had to say (from KTTV-TV):

"I apologize to the residents of Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa and the brave men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department for this incident," Cummings said.

Cummings called his part in the photo incident "irresponsible and inappropriate" and said he came forward with the picture for accountability.

"This is an opportunity for a teachable moment," Cummings said. "To be able to use my personal experience of what happened to me to be able to help my young firefighters, to keep them from making the same type of mistake is invaluable." 

To anyone in a position of leadership who reads STATter911.com, do yourself a favor and take note of how Chief Cummings dealt with this situation. Even if it turns out that a reporter had been asking questions that brought this response from the chief (again, there is no indication of that at this point and, in fact, the chief said he self-reported this information to the department's professional standards division), the chief has shown great leadership in his actions and message to the department and has provided the rest of us with a great example of an extremely effective way to handle bad news.

Watch the video above and read the KTTV-TV and Contra Costa Times stories on the chief's announcement. Now, picture how this story would have looked to the public and his firefighters if Chief Cummings did what so many leaders still do when there is embarrassing news about them or the department (think of former Congressman Anthony Weiner). Here's what you don't see or hear in this story:

  • A reporter chasing the chief down the street yelling questions about some racy photos.
  • A reporter saying they have uncovered a department scandal.
  • The chief reading from a statement or issuing one through his press office and then refusing to answer questions.
  • A "no comment" from the chief or a PIO.
  • A "we can't talk about it because it's a personal matter" type statement issued from the press office.
  • A union president saying there is a double standard on how discipline is handled in the department.

What you do see is a chief in charge, admitting he made a mistake, taking responsibility, apologizing and then explaining his proposal on dealing with these type issues in the future.

There is a great deal to gain by releasing bad news yourself rather than wait for it to leak out to reporters. It allows you to take some control of the story and puts you ahead of the game in the ultimate goal of getting this news behind you so you can move forward. For this to be effective, it means you really have to come clean. If you don't get all of the bad news out, it can, and likely will, come back to haunt you.

Besides the problem of lawyers telling you not to say anything about a sensitive subject for fear it will cost you later in court, the biggest obstacles in handling bad news this way tend to be the ego and emotion of the person in charge (again, think Anthony Weiner). From what we can see in our vantage point all the way across the country, Chief Cummings had no problem with any of this. As long as there are no other similar skeletons in his closet that we are not hearing about, Chief Cummings has turned a story that had potential to seriously damage his career into one that will likely do him a world of good. 

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Dickey

    C'mon….13 years ago?? How far back do you want to go? When I started 20+ years ago I was party to some questionable activity as well, we all did back then. Times have changed to be too uptight and too polictically correct. How many skeletons do you want to dig up? How far is too far back? This incident with the porn star only 2-3 years ago…..ok fine. But naked pictures 13 years ago? I think that's a stretch.
     
    Next thing you know we will all have a press conference for cheating on our taxes!

  • Skeletor

    Dave, I like your take on this but I think you are wrong.  My guess is that the new Chief knows there are still members who remember the incident 13 yrs ago and he thought he better spill the beans and report it so the members he is in command of, not the media, couldn't use it against him.

    • dave statter

      Skeletor,

      That could be the case, but it doesn’t change my opinion on how he handled the situation. What he did was take potential harm that could be done with his information, whether from the news media or his own people, and turned into something positive by dealing with it directly and from all appearances openly. Unfortunately too few leader choose this option when handling bad news about themselves or their organization.

      Statter

  • skeletor

    Absolutely

  • No. 1 Statter Fan in Virginia

    Who cares? I mean really brothers, who cares? We have instances of brother firefighters and volunteer EMS/ rescue comrades dying or getting hurt on the job, many more brothers (like the ones down in Florida) who are losing their jobs, and this is all the media has to talk about? Bad judgement, somebody ought to get a a%$ chewing, this is something that ought to been handled at the Battalion Chief level, down. The news must be really slow in Los Angeles. The Chief only made his statement to save his own a&%. Firemen are like elephants, yeah, his old crew would not have forgot about that happening in the past. I really enjoyed seeing where this was also presented to the mayor, "mayor villerasga" being such a "morally up right" person and all himself. It seems like the mayor is not being consistant, as when the hazing incident came about (in the media)years ago he fired Chief Bamatre. Anyways, surely there is other stuff we could read about rather than this. She did not look that good anyway…. Also, where is the LAFD PIO doing damage control? LAFD needs to work on its relationship with local media as well so they would necessarily be wasting time reporting stuff like this. Chief Klinger (LA County) had a excellant relationship with the press and they got there stories, but they also helping maintain the department's image (well deserved), too.

  • Legeros

    Great perspectives as always, Dave.  I also stand ready to support you, should you ever go public with the fact that you've been operating a controversial fire blog for some time now. Lead by example!

    • dave statter

      Gosh, I wouldn’t want anyone to know about that Mikey.

  • ukfbbuff

    My 2 cents from Calif.
    Ok, so he Confessed to his transgressions and the TF 63 issue is Moot because of Statute of Limtations.
    Since Chief Brian Cummings is having a "Nostalgic Moment", does he know anything about the  XXX Movie made at Old Station 23, which was also used in the Movie Ghostbusters and made for TV Movie "Firehouse" back in the early 1970's?
    An article in the Los Angeles times Newspaper mentioned this in an article about seven or eight years ago, and then  nothing else was written about it.
     
     

  • mark

    If you don't understand what Dave is saying here, you need some help. Sure there are more important issues at hand, but the media could have turned this into a huge issue had he not come forward. And even if he was worried about his crew remembering and going public, so what? Would you do anything different? He didn't throw them under the bus (as a captain in Macon-Bibb recently did) but admitted it, took responsibility and punished himself. He may have other faults, but he's also a stand up guy for doing this IMO.

  • WillMega06

    Some people are never satisfied, alot of brothers that come on here saying the chief admitted his transgressions because he was worried about losing his job, I bet have done some major dirt in their time. Whatever the reason the chief manned up and told the truth, anyway just as someone else stated based on Mayor Villagrosia's track record im sure the chief could have kept his job and continued the typical organizational hippocracy. Instead of continuing to critique the man how about look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you were the Fire Chief of the second largest city in the United States of America could you bring yourself to admiting to your fellow brothers and citizens that you don't walk on water and have made the same mistakes they have, and then punsh yourself. Just saying brothers.