Whistleblower: 'We had nowhere else to go'

Whistleblower: 'We had nowhere else to go' »Play Video

SEATTLE -- The man who blew the whistle on the Seattle Fire Department said the problems he saw were so serious he had a moral obligation to expose his own department.

Battalion Chief Jim Woodbury said he lost his rank and pay when he took his complaints to city ethics investigators

Woodbury, a 22-year veteran of the department, moved up the ranks and became a deputy chief. But, he said, he risked it all to save the department he loves.

"We had nowhere else to go," he said.
    
Woodbury's concerns started in 2004 when he worked on the department's fire inspection contract with Qwest Field. Woodbury said he spotted red flags, most of which pointed to Lt. Milt Footer, who has been handling all the fire marshal duties for Qwest Field and the Qwest Field Event Center since 2002.

When he and other staffers took their concerns to Fire Chief Gregory Dean, Woodbury said he was ignored.

"We were told by Chief (Fire Marshal Kenneth) Tipler that Chief Dean felt we were picking on Lt. Footer," he said.

Then last spring, new issues surfaced. It turns out the fire department never billed the Seahawks for nearly $200,000 of fire services -- bills that Footer was responsible to process.

Ultimately, Woodbury said he was told to drop the investigation; Footer would not be disciplined and Woodbury was warned not to talk about getting back those lost taxpayer dollars. Woodbury said the orders came directly from Dean.

Frustrated, the deputy chief blew the whistle. The city ethics commission investigation found Footer violated ethics codes.

An ensuing investigation by the ethics commission found that Footer had "grossly wasted public funds."

The report stated Footer failed to bill First and Goal, a Paul Allen company which operates Qwest Field, $195,679 to pay for firefighters who work overtime during Seahawks games to ensure public safety.

Last week, Dean told KOMO News, "When we looked at it this spring, we believed that it was an honest mistake."
    
But two months after Woodbury filed his complaint, he was demoted to battalion chief.

"There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this was retaliation," he said.

Woodbury said he filed a complaint with the Mayor's Office in January, claiming he was wrongly demoted.

Now Woodbury's demotion and other department problems are the subject of two investigations. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the mayor is waiting for the results of those investigations.

"And it was clear that there are problems here with performance,"  he said. 
   
But Ceis would not reiterate last week's statement of support for Dean.

"The mayor will make his determination on what appropriate discipline will be for all parties involved," he said.

Those investigations are not likely to be completed until the end of next week at the earliest. But the Mayor's Office has promised to act swiftly if any discipline is necessary.