May 5, 2022 - News

Scoop: Denver firefighter suspended for intimidation after stuffed rat prank

A stuffed rat atop a partition wall near a Denver firefighter's sleeping quarters inside Fire Station 5 in Glendale.
A photo of the stuffed rat found next to a Denver firefighter's sleeping area in Glendale. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Safety Department

Denver firefighter Aaron McNally is facing a 17-day suspension for attempted intimidation after placing a stuffed rat near another firefighter's sleeping area late last year.

Why it matters: McNally alleged the prank was "firehouse humor" — which calls into question the culture inside the city's fire department after repeated incidents in recent years.

The backdrop: The fake rat was found near the sleeping area of an unidentified firefighter who had been named as a witness in a separate disciplinary case.

  • The targeted firefighter told an assistant city attorney that he feared for his and his family's safety following the rat incident, as well as repercussions for his career.

What happened: Denver's public safety department didn't buy McNally's claim that it was a joke.

  • McNally was nearly fired for the November incident at Fire Station 5 in Glendale after admitting responsibility for the action, according to a disciplinary letter issued last week and obtained by Axios Denver.

Between the lines: Two days before the stuffed rat was discovered, the unidentified firefighter's name appeared on a list of witnesses for a separate disciplinary case.

  • During that investigation, McNally lied on behalf of another firefighter, Charles Karl, who worked with him at Fire Station 5. Karl was demoted from captain to firefighter after a separate internal investigation, documents show.
  • The unnamed firefighter did not testify following the incident, and he felt the stuffed rodent was an attempt to label him a "rat" for testifying against Karl.

Details: The safety department found McNally violated three department rules, including one barring firefighters from intimidating or retaliating against people identified as witnesses in disciplinary cases.

  • McNally said he was remorseful for the incident.
  • He avoided dismissal by participating in a wellness program and presenting letters of reference.
  • If McNally slips up again over the next five years, he could be fired.

What they're saying: "This clearly doesn't represent our department," Denver fire spokesperson Greg Pixley told Axios Denver. He called McNally's suspension "significant."

The big picture: The incident paints a problematic culture inside the city's fire department.

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