CA Chief Apologizes for Fire Truck Strip Club Visits

March 23, 2023
But San Jose Chief Robert Sapien won't say if the firefighters involved in 'Poodlegate' were disciplined.

Gabriel Greschler

Bay Area News Group


A five-month investigation into why a San Jose firetruck dropped off a bikini-clad woman at a strip club has concluded, but officials have yet to answer many questions about the scandalous incident caught on video, including which firefighters were outside the Pink Poodle and what discipline — if any — they face.

In a letter sent to city councilmembers earlier this month, San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien wrote the department “extends a sincere apology” to the community. But he said the identities of the firefighters seen at the strip club won’t be released.

“The actions portrayed in the video were received with disappointment and concern, as they appeared seriously misaligned with the Department’s mission and values and were highly detrimental to the confidence and trust of our community and our workforce,” Sapien wrote in the 343-word letter dated March 10. It was the first time that he apologized for the incident.

Sapien said the city would not elaborate on the incident as “employees’ personnel information is confidential,” but that the firefighters have been notified that “appropriate action” will be taken. He also promised that standards of conduct will be reinforced among its wider workforce.

“I tried to be as generous as possible with the memo sent to council,” Sapien said in an interview. “I don’t have any additional comments at this time.”

The city manager’s office also declined to provide any further details on the firefighters’ October visit to the Pink Poodle, which drew swift condemnation from then-Mayor Sam Liccardo. “If the investigation concludes that this video is as bad as it looks, then heads must roll,” Liccardo said in the statement at the time.

The “World Famous” Pink Poodle, established in 1963, is the city’s only “all-nude club”. It survived a 1984 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that cities had the right to zone away adult businesses, but made an exception for the Pink Poodle, according to the strip club’s website.

The firefighter scandal first came to light on Oct. 6 when a video was posted to the Instagram account San Jose Foos showing an Engine 4 fire truck outside the strip club on South Bascom Avenue, and a scantily clad woman exiting the vehicle, closing its door and then walking toward the Pink Poodle’s entrance. The video was captioned, “Only in San Jose do you see a stripper come out of a firetruck.”

Dispatch records later revealed no calls for service were made at the address. A public records request made by Bay Area News Group revealed that the Pink Poodle wasn’t the only adult entertainment establishment visited by Engine 4 that night. GPS data shows that the firetruck also traveled to AJ’s Bar, a bikini bar on Lincoln Avenue 2 miles away from the Pink Poodle. The GPS data was first reported on by NBC Bay Area.

The investigation that was launched in October by the city manager’s office was officially closed in February with no information about its findings revealed.

The entire situation has perplexed retired San Jose Fire Captain Richard Santos, who said in an interview that the investigation took much longer than usual and the incident was addressed too late by the chief.

“I’m kind of puzzled. The lingering on it is not good,” Santos, currently a director at Santa Clara Valley Water District, said in an interview. “What was really done?”

Before the official investigation was closed, additional public records requests made by this news organization were denied by the city. Those requests included documents related to any disciplinary actions taken against the firefighters seen in the Oct. 6 video and internal fire department communications regarding the incident, as well as any related reports.

Staff writer Austin Turner contributed reporting to this article.

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