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Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade Resigns Over Racy Gala

DENVER (CBS4) - Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade resigned his position Monday in a letter to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Tade says a catalyst for him stepping down was the Firefighters Annual Ball last weekend, organized by the department's union. The event featured sexually charged content that he found offensive.

Eric Tade
Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade (credit: CBS)

It was the second year in a row the banquet and awards ceremony ended in controversy. In 2019, a sex toy was paraded around the party and many firefighters posed with the item in a photo booth. When those pictures emerged during a CBS4 investigation, Tade said he was embarrassed and found the behavior unprofessional. He promised the behavior would not be repeated.

"Clearly it's not funny or appropriate," Tade said following the 2019 event.

But last weekend, the annual event began with an emcee making off color jokes about the previous year's sex toy controversy, followed by a comedian who riffed about dildos and joked that DFD no longer stood for the Denver Fire Department, but for a dildo free department.

denver fire gala investigation
(credit: CBS)

"Strategies were implemented, and assurances were made to prevent these actions from being repeated. Unfortunately, this year's event did not prove to live up to those expectations or mine," Tade wrote in his his resignation letter.

He will step down as Chief on March 16, but will remain with the department as an Assistant Chief.

Denver Firefighters Local 858 said as a result of what happened last weekend, it fired the PR Director and Gala emcee from his position.

"The behavior displayed by some at this year's Gala was not acceptable. Local 858 takes full responsibility and apologizes for these actions."

Kim Wadsworth, the comedian who was hired to entertain the firefighters and their spouses at last weekend's event, told CBS4 some jokes about dildos were fed to her, but she wouldn't say who gave her the jokes. As part of her normal routine, she joked about how in her home state of Texas, the laws are odd and people can own an unlimited number of guns, but only six dildos.

Wadsworth said she was brought in to "take the edge off and everyone gets fired. Pretty sure I won't be back," said Wadsworth. She said joking about sex toys is part of her normal routine that she's done for the last three years.

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Kim Wadsworth (credit: CBS)

She said she thought some people were "being extra sensitive." I have told the same set of dildo jokes in Texas, Massachusetts, Las Vegas, Colorado and Florida so far, and I will continue to tell my well-written, well-structured, well-timed and well-delivered dildo jokes. These are jokes, and it was not my intention to make anyone uncomfortable or offend anyone."

The department has previously faced controversy for its treatment of women.

Last year, a former DFD lieutenant was charged with planting a hidden camera in the firehouse room of a female firefighter. The case against Daniel Flesner is still pending.

In 2016, the department paid female firefighter Camilla Von Burkhardt $75,000 after she filed a lawsuit saying sexual harassment was "pervasive" at the department and ingrained in department culture. The payment settled her claims against the department.

Former Capt. Colley Fisher received $975,000 from the city after she won her federal lawsuit against the Denver Fire Department. She said she was fired for filing complaints about gender discrimination. She had described the Denver Fire Department as a "boys club."

Tade called the incidents isolated and not representative of the department.

"These are a few isolated incidents that don't reflect over a thousand men and women who come to work every day and are dedicated and perform admirably," said Tade in a 2019 interview.

Mayor Hancock released a written statement saying he appreciated Tade's "courage and wisdom in recognizing it was time for a change."

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