Allegations of a battalion chief’s inappropriate remarks about a female subordinate and a fight at an off-duty party demonstrate tensions within the Las Vegas Fire Department and complaints that management does not haven’t done enough to fix it.
Engineer Cynthia Reveles, second vice-president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1285, claimed Battalion Chief Robert Pitts, over a period of about a month beginning in September, accused her of wrong to have slept with three of his colleagues. Pitts declined an interview to discuss the allegations.
Engineer Shane Carney said he was hit by Capt. Steve Palenske at an employee retirement party at Red Rock Canyon Campground on April 22, with about 75 firefighters in attendance. Palenske, who is on the front line for a promotion to battalion chief, admitted he punched Carney in the nose, in “a most regrettable occurrence, of course”.
In both cases, Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan and Deputy Chief Dina Dalessio, the department’s two top officials, who recently announced their retirement, have been dragged into the fray by accusations that they attempted to hinder incident investigations.
Reveles shared with the Review-Journal a copy of an email she sent to Buchanan and the city’s human resources department in November detailing separate accounts from Pitts accusing two fellow union leaders of having a relationship. with her. Reveles’ email also said that Pitts was overheard in the kitchen of a fire station telling a captain that Reveles and a board member had had sex on multiple occasions.
Reveles also shared the Dec. 30 email response she received from Buchanan.
He said he was concerned about the allegations, but explained that he and city officials determined after an investigation that the comments attributed to Pitts did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.
“However, they rise to the level of poor judgment by a staff member at the command level of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue,” Buchanan wrote, using the department’s official name.
Buchanan added that he addressed his concerns with Pitts in a disciplinary setting and received assurances that there would be no further events.
Fight at the campsite
Carney admitted to having had a strained relationship with Palenske for many years, but it turned violent at the party after a verbal altercation. Carney said Palenske punched him in the face, which resulted in more blows as they rolled through the dirt.
Palenske recalled it differently, saying Carney threatened and made a scene throughout the night and put his hand in the face of his wife, former congresswoman and current Las Vegas City Council candidate Francis Allen-Palenske.
Carney said he filed a police report days after the incident, but did not press charges.
The Metropolitan Police Department said it did not have an incident report involving the two men.
Both men said they were eventually disciplined for violating the department’s code of conduct during off-duty hours. Palenske said his discipline was tougher and involved documents that remained in his file for six months.
Poorly managed probes?
Carney said the city’s human resources department and Dalessio sought to end any formal review of the incident at the retirement party.
“The city knew the seriousness of the situation and tried to cover it up,” he said.
Palenske dismissed the idea, however, saying the department’s union had asked Dalessio not to be part of the process, which she was not doing.
But Carney, who has been with the department for two decades, said he was worried about future repercussions because Palenske is close to Dalessio and on the front line for promotion to battalion chief.
Meanwhile, Reveles said she and four other employees later filed human resources complaints against Pitts. But she said the city’s investigation overlooked key people and that she was appalled that Buchanan sought to sit down with her and Pitts, as well as a human resources representative and a union representative, if she chose to bring one.
“Again, it’s our management trying to get me to talk to this battalion commander so he can apologize and then they can pull the rug under the rug,” she said.
History of scandals
The reports of misconduct follow a series of scandals or missteps preceding Buchanan and Dalessio’s leadership that have tarnished the department’s reputation in recent years.
In 2020, the city agreed to pay $560,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a firefighter who claimed he worked thousands of unreported or underreported overtime hours over a three-year period.
Two years earlier, a firefighter learned that a private, sexually explicit video of her was circulating among her colleagues.
In 2020, the city agreed to pay $280,000 to settle allegations that the department mishandled its investigation into the case.