A recent uproar over half-naked women and L.A. firetrucks took an embarrassing turn up the chain of command Friday when the chief admitted he himself once posed for racy pictures on a fire rig.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings said that he and the rest of his fire crew were photographed with a bikini-clad woman on the Venice boardwalk 13 years ago — and he said the firefighters also took a picture of the woman posing topless.
Cummings, 52, told Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about the photos last week. As punishment, Cummings volunteered to serve 120 hours of community service.
His revelation was made less than two weeks after the Fire Department launched an investigation into allegations that two fire stations allowed department engines to be used in porn shoots. In one video released in 2008, an actress climbs onto a fire engine at Venice Beach and exposes herself.
City officials confirmed this week that firefighters involved in the incidents won't face discipline because of a provision in the City Charter preventing the Fire Department from punishing employees for actions more than two years in the past. Cummings said that he would support a Charter amendment to change the provision and that he made the decision to punish himself to set an example of accountability for the rest of the department.
"This is an opportunity for me to lead the organization and provide a teachable moment," he said during a series of one-on-one interviews with reporters arranged by Villaraigosa's office.
Villaraigosa said in a statement that Cummings, whom he named chief last month, had "learned a lasting lesson from this experience."
"While serious," Villaraigosa said, "this incident does not tarnish his entire career."
Cummings submitted the photos to the department's professional standards division and has asked it to conduct an investigation, even though the Charter exempts him from punishment.
He said the 120 hours of community service is about the length of punishment that a firefighter found guilty of similar behavior today might receive. Cummings said he violated rules about not bringing dishonor to the department and not acting as a responsible supervisor. He was captain of the four-man rig at the time.
Cummings said he had forgotten about the photo shoot until the recent hubbub over the porn videos.
It began, he said, when a woman in a bikini approached on the boardwalk to take a closer look at the firetruck he and the crew were manning. The firefighters asked if they could take pictures with her, and handed the camera to a person passing by.
The firefighters then asked if they could take a picture of the woman standing alone in front of the rig, Cummings said. He said the firefighters were shocked when she took her top off.
Councilman Dennis Zine, who recently requested an update on the investigation into the use of the fire rigs in the porn videos, called Cummings' conduct "wrong and improper." But he said the fire chief did the right thing by coming forward with the photographs and volunteering punishment.
"I think it's commendable that he's willing to self-impose punishment on himself," Zine said.
Those who follow City Hall were perplexed, to say the least, by the day's events. Abby Diamond, a director with the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance, described the flurry of official statements as "a waste of everybody's time."
"You expect people in Venice to be wearing bikinis," she said. "If she took off her bikini, maybe she's the one who should have regrets."