TRENTON — One of the city’s two deputy fire chiefs has chosen to retire instead of heed what he believes are improper and unethical orders from Fire Director Qareeb Bashir, a fire union president said Tuesday.
Deputy Chief Robert Tharp was promoted earlier this year at a City Hall ceremony and in just over six months as a department leader has made measurable improvements to the department, firefighters’ union president Wayne Wolk said.
Now, the city’s going to lose Tharp for standing up to Bashir, who wants to internally charge two firefighters in connection with years-old allegations that the city recently defended them against in the Jesse Diaz case, Wolk charged.
“This is a sad day for the fire department,” Wolk said.
Diaz, a former firefighter, won a $750,000 trial verdict against the city in September for retaliation by fellow firefighters after he reported another of them using a racial slur.
In trial testimony, Diaz named Capt. Jim Hall and Deputy Chief Leonard Carmichael as retaliating against him, starting in 2012.
According to Wolk, Bashir recently asked Tharp to investigate Hall and Carmichael in connection with the Diaz incidents. Tharp initially complied, but reported back that there was nothing to charge them with, and reminded Bashir that the city defended their actions in the case.
Bashir himself took the stand in the trial, defending his and the department’s handling of the Diaz case.
Wolk said Bashir allegedly responded to Tharp needed to charge them anyway. In Hall’s case, Wolk said Bashir allegedly made a comment to “find something” to charge him with.
Wolk also said Bashir declined Tharp’s request to discuss the matter with the city law department.
On Monday, the incident came to a head and Tharp has informed colleagues that he’ll retire, with his integrity intact, than participate in trumped-up charges, Wolk said.
“He’s the type of guy who will do the right thing, no matter what side it falls on,” Wolk said.
Nobody knows the department rule book like Tharp, his reputation as an overall firefighter is impeccable, and he’ll protect it, said Wolk, who fought for Tharp’s promotion, even though he was in the supervisors union.
The union leader said Tharp is so by-the-book and respectful of the chain of command, so he’d rather retire than do something he thinks is wrong.
“Tharp is that stand-up guy,” Wolk said.
Bashir could not be a reached for comment Tuesday.
Complicating matters, Wolk said, is that Carmichael is planning to retire in January.
Firefighters and police officers are generally prohibited from retiring while facing departmental charges.
Carmichael, who made history in 2013 when he was named the city’s first African American deputy fire chief, sparred with Bashir vividly in the spring of 2014, when city Councilman George Muschal briefly served as mayor and fired Bashir, naming Carmichael as acting fire director.
Carmichael called the police when Bashir arrived at fire headquarters for work after his firing. Bashir was eventually reinstated to director’s post by a judge.
Carmichael and Tharp declined comment when reached Tuesday.