By Joe Vazquez

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The head of the arson task force at the San Francisco Fire Department said he has been demoted. It’s not the first time the former task force chief has been a squeaky wheel.

As major fires over the last year and a half destroyed large buildings and left people dead, the man in charge of finding out what caused them was acting captain of the arson task force John Darmanin.

But he says he didn’t have enough staff to keep on top of the investigations.

“Our backlog of reports grew to over 450 reports in a year. And that’s outrageous,” Darmanin told KPIX 5.

Darmanin said he complained, first internally, then publicly, that the department needed to hire more arson investigators. He made a passionate appeal for more staff at several public meetings.  Then two weeks ago, Darmanin said the chief removed him from the arson task force.

“I was told – not only am I being reassigned, but the chief has decided to demote me,” Darmanin said. “No doubt at all in my mind that the reason I was taken out is because I criticized her lack of leadership,”

This is not the first time Darmanin has been through this.  In 1995, he raised concerns about safety at the airport. He was reassigned, then after a federal lawsuit, won his position back along with a monetary settlement.

He has raised so many concerns publicly that Darmanin was once described by a union official as a “bitter malcontent.”

“I am not, and the record speaks for itself,” he said. “I have never argued for my own gain. All my arguments are for safety, for training budgets, for staffing.”

When asked if speaking out lead to Darmanin’s reassignment, fire department spokesperson Mindy Talmadge said, “Oh no, absolutely not.  That would be an unethical thing to do.”

Talmadge said the backlog is what led to the change in leadership at the arson task force leader.

“In that position, that was filled over the last year and a half, we have seen the number of open fire investigation reports grown fivefold,” she said.

Talmadge said new staff has been added to the task force.