Chief John Kobarda. (File photo – London Free Press)

London’s fire chief isn’t answering burning questions about the mysterious absence of one of his deputies.

Chief John Kobarda on Friday declined to clarify Brian McLaughlin’s status.

McLaughlin, who’s in charge of fire prevention, hasn’t been at work since April 11 when he was seen leaving the fire hall with a duffel bag.

His absence comes amid a code-of-conduct investigation launched after a female colleague reported McLaughlin made a disparaging comment to her during a breast-cancer awareness event at work in the fall.

“I think if you want any comments about anything like that, you’re better to go to HR,” Kobarda said Friday when asked about McLaughlin. “The corporation does not speak about any human resources issues.”

London lawyer Liz Hewitt, a specialist in workplace issues, is leading the probe into the harassment complaint.

Calls to McLaughlin’s office went unanswered Friday; an automated email response said he’s out of the office for an extended period.

The department will go down another deputy when Dave Lazenby leaves for a new job as the fire chief in Burlington.

Lazenby, who has been in charge of fire suppression since 2010, has given his notice to the department. “Every time you lose a deputy . . . it creates challenges,” Kobarda said of Lazenby’s pending departure.

“It always causes an issue, but in the spirit of fire service, we shall overcome.”

It’s unknown whether Lazenby’s replacement will be promoted from within the department or be recruited from outside.

“We’re going to have to develop that strategy,” Kobarda said.

The department has a history of filling its top posts with individuals from the outside. Lazenby came to London from England, while McLaughlin previously worked as a deputy in Windsor. London’s third deputy chief, Lori Hamer, who’s in charge of training and communications, came to the city from Kitchener last year.

dcarruthers@postmedia.com