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A battalion chief with the Renton Fire Department has been given three days suspension for attacking one of his own firefighters. (KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)

Battalion chief punished for hitting firefighter with oven lid

A battalion chief with the Renton Fire Department has been given three days suspension after an attack on one of his own firefighters that included shoving him with the lid of a Dutch oven.

Battalion Chief Stan Engler, a 28-year veteran of the force with no prior complaints on his record, was disciplined for physically and verbally assaulting a firefighter while off duty at Fire Station 12 on Aug. 18.

According to an investigative report conducted by an independent law firm and obtained by KIRO Radio through a public disclosure request, Engler was upset with the firefighter for his behavior at a barbeque the night before.

On the morning on August 18, the firefighter told investigators he walked into the kitchen area at Fire Station 12 to get a cup of coffee.

"As he took a sip from his coffee, the door to the apparatus bay 'flew open' and Battalion Chief Engler walked in carrying a dirty Dutch oven lid that was left over from the BBQ," the report read. "According to (the firefighter), Battalion Chief Engler then pushed him into the food lockers, swearing profusely, calling him a 'mother----er.'"

"(The firefighter) stated that Engler forcefully put his middle finger on (the firefighter's) lips, shoving his finger into (the firefighter's) gums and telling him not to say a word."

The firefighter told investors that Engler then "slapped" him across the left side of his face and "shoved the lid he was carrying" into his chest, "which pushed him back into the lockers and spilled food all over."

According to the firefighter, Engler then began to verbally assault him.

The firefighter stated that Engler told him he would "shove his testicle's so far up his stomach..." if he ever set foot on his property again. He then told the firefighter to go outside so he could "beat the (expletive) out of him," the report said.

During his interview with investigators, the firefighter "expressed general confusion as to what he had done to evoke such a strong reaction from Engler," but suspected it may have been because he "drank more than usual" during the BBQ at Engler's home the night before. He said another firefighter spilled a tray of seafood salad on Engler's carpet, which may have set him off. The firefighter expressed serious concern over statements Engler made about blocking his future promotions within the department.

When Engler was interviewed by investigators, he acknowledged being "emotional and upset" the morning of the incident. He said he shoved the firefighter with the Dutch oven lid and was "verbally abusive," but did not believe he had slapped him.

Engler told investigators that he was disappointed with how the firefighter had behaved at his house. He said the firefighter was drunk and made a comment about Engler's penis. Engler said he was also told that the firefighter was throwing food and swearing at another firefighter who was trying to help clean up.

"(Engler) took full responsibility for his actions, and expressed his belief that, as a battalion chief, he should be held to a higher standard," the report said.

The investigation resulted in a three-day suspension without pay for Engler, which will be carried out upon his return from leave for an injury sustained on the job.

KIRO Radio was told about the incident by a source within the fire department who was disappointed with the discipline Engler received and expressed concern that he would be allowed to return to work in a supervisory role. As a battalion chief, Engler is responsible for overseeing half of the city's fire stations on any given day.

"The lesson I have learned is that the City of Renton condones the use of force and physical assaults by its supervisors upon their subordinates," said the source, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Fire Chief Mark Peterson told KIRO Radio that this was the first time he has suspended an employee since he took over the department in 2010. The Renton Fire Department has 132 firefighters.

"The corrective action that we took was based on information that we had from the report. It was based on the fact that this is a 28-year veteran with no disciplinary history in his personal file," Peterson said.

Peterson said he conferred with the city's labor attorneys, human resources department, and administration before determining the appropriate action to take.

Investigators concluded that the incident had "profoundly affected most department personnel, who are reportedly saddened by what happened."

"The witnesses with whom I spoke all expressed shock that the incident had occurred, and that Battalion Chief Engler was involved," an investigator wrote. "All witnesses, including (the firefighter) emphasized that the incident was 'totally out of character' for Engler. The witnesses emphasized Engler's exemplary career with the department and described him as highly professional, calm, cool, collected, diplomatic, well respected and highly regarded."

Stan Engler returned a call for comment, but declined to discuss the incident.

Brandi Kruse, KIRO Radio Reporter
Brandi Kruse is a reporter for KIRO Radio who is as spontaneous and adventurous in her free time as she is on the job. Brandi arrived at KIRO Radio in March 2011 and has already collected three regional Edward R. Murrow awards for her reporting.
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