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CFD paramedic placed on leave for allegedly masturbating in firehouse

Five Chicago Fire Department paramedics are among seven women nationwide pursuing #MeToo-style sex harassment cases thanks to a $22 million legal fund.

Five Chicago Fire Department paramedics are among seven women nationwide pursuing #MeToo-style sex harassment cases thanks to a $22 million legal fund. | Sun-Times file photo

A Chicago Fire Department paramedic has been placed on paid administrative leave amid complaints that he masturbated repeatedly in and around a South Side firehouse in full view of co-workers.

City Hall sources said the allegations about the vulgar and offensive behavior — on Fire Department apparatus and in other locations in and around the firehouse — have been swirling for more than a year.

Still, the paramedic remained on the job without consequence and the pattern of behavior allegedly continued, to the disgust of co-workers.

But the political climate has changed.

Sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have prompted an avalanche of allegations against men in acting, the media, the restaurant industry and politics.

The #MeToo tidal wave has prompted the City Council to strengthen the city’s sexual harassment ordinance four times — with no end in sight — to inoculate aldermen from a scandal that has hit Springfield, but not Chicago.

Against that backdrop — and a more recent scandal close to home involving firehouse sex — the paramedic’s actions could no longer be ignored, the sources said.

In January, a veteran Chicago firefighter was fired for brazenly and repeatedly having sex with a woman at a South Side firehouse while colleagues allegedly looked the other way.

The first of several shoes to drop in the Chicago Fire Department’s latest sex scandal targeted a firefighter assigned to Truck 24 on the Far South Side.

City Hall refused to identify the firefighter, but said his former girlfriend not only filed the complaint with the Fire Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs that triggered the investigation, but provided all of the supporting documents needed to nail the accused firefighter.

Sources said the woman provided text messages, emails and phone records that proved “she was where she said she was” and so was the firefighter.

Armed with the evidence, Internal Affairs concluded that the firehouse was used as the scene of sexual trysts — not once, but repeatedly over a long period of time.

Internal Affairs also investigated the woman’s claim that she was involved in three-way sex with the firefighter and another woman. But sources said investigators were unable to verify that any such encounters occurred on Fire Department property, sources said.

Two dozen firefighters were interviewed over the course of an investigation that dragged on for months. Sources said the now-fired firefighter filed a rebuttal to the charges that was rejected by Fire Department brass.

Firehouse sex is strictly off-limits. In addition, no visitors are allowed in Chicago firehouses after 10 p.m.

Even so, it’s not the first time that salacious charges have been made against Chicago firefighters.

In 2000, a 27-year-old prostitute arrested for burglarizing a suburban home claimed she performed oral sex on as many as five firefighters a night at several Chicago firehouses over 11 years. At the time, Jennifer Manzella was being held in Cook County Jail on charges that she burglarized the Elmwood Park home of a retired Chicago firefighter with whom she said she had an 11-year relationship.

She told police she was paid $25 for every sex act she performed, that the sex went on at “several” Chicago firehouses and that her roommate was performing similar acts for on-duty firefighters.

James Joyce, then the fire commissioner, threw the book at those accused of having firehouse sex with a prostitute and against firefighters who used their fire engine as a taxicab for Belmont Harbor partygoers who claimed they were too drunk to drive home.

But that wasn’t it for firehouse sex scandals.

In 2004, the Chicago Fire Department cut off internet access at 59 firehouse computers — and ordered dozens of firefighters to undergo counseling — after determining that a computer at an O’Hare Airport station was used over a nine-month period to visit “inappropriate sites,” possibly including pornography.