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Flagler Beach Fire Chief and 3 Others On Leave as Drinking Allegations Trigger Investigation

| January 7, 2013

Controversy is again swirling over the Flagler Beach Fire Department. (© FlaglerLive)

Controversy is again swirling over the Flagler Beach Fire Department. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell on Friday placed a third of his fire department on paid administrative leave pending an independent investigation of “serious allegations” of violations of city policy by the fire chief and others. The alleged violations all have to do with drinking at the fire station or responding to a fire after drinking at a Christmas party.

Fire Chief Martin Roberts, Assistant fire Chief Shane Wood, firefighter Jacob Bissonette and Fire Police Captain Steve Wood have been placed on leave, according to city records. Robert Pace, a firefighter and paramedic, is the acting chief, as he was last year when a different set of allegations emerged against Roberts. Roberts survived that controversy—focused on his trip to inspect fire trucks without the city manager’s knowledge—with a three-day suspension.

The allegations originated with Pace, who wrote a two-page letter on Dec. 26 to Campbell and Libby Kania, the human resources director, citing “several incidents recently that are very concerning to me and several members of the fire department.” But he was not alone filing the complaints. Another firefighter sent a letter to Kania and Campbell on the 25th, and another–a volunteer firefighter–on the 28th. The names of those firefighters were redacted from the document turned over to a reporter. The documents also included two additional, undated letters addressed “to whom it may concern,” by firefighters, relating the events as they saw them on. Complaints were conveyed to Flagler Beach City Commissioner Marshal Shupe, who is also a volunteer fireman in the department. Shupe related those complaints to Kania, and produced a two-page narrative of the issue in as far as he became aware of it, or involved in it.

Campbell has retained Fishback Dominick, a Winter Park law firm, to conduct the investigation, for up to $10,000. Should the investigation cost more, the Flagler Beach City Commission, which learned of the suspension in a memo Friday, would have to vote approval. But until then the investigation is under the city manager’s budgetary purview and does not require city commission approval, Campbell said in an interview Monday morning. The law firm was recommended to him by City Attorney Drew Smith.

Pace’s allegations focus on two dates. The first was Dec. 14, when the fire department held its Christmas party at Friend’s Café. That same evening, the Flagler Beach Fire Department was the lead agency in response to a fire that partially burned a three-level house on North Oceanshore Boulevard. Roberts commanded the scene, and the fire, despite the discovery of a dry fire hydrant, was put out swiftly, and most of the house saved.

“I was not involved with the call that took place this evening, but I’m writing in regards to the events I personally witnessed,” Pace wrote in his memo.

Click On:

Pace said he saw Steve Wood drinking at the party.  Pace was at the party and “had a few drinks myself,” then left, with his wife as his designated driver. Pace was only later told of the fire on Oceanshore. He was not among the responders at that fire. On Dec. 19, Pace was told by firefighters Snyder and Turish that they’d seen Steve Wood responding to the fire and operating the city’s tower truck. “Both firefighters,” Pace wrote, “voiced their concerns of safety, perception, and complete disregard for our department’s standard operating policies.” Pace told Roberts of the firefighters’ concerns. Roberts, according to Pace’s memo, issued a verbal reprimand to Wood “and he was confident that Captain Wood would never attempt anything like this again.”

The memo then shifts to Dec. 25, when Pace and Snyder got to work for their shift, relieving Assistant Fire Chief Shane Wood and Jake Bissonnette. As the group talked over its “daily pass-down,” Pace claims that Wood and Bissonnette “retrieved two jars out of their shift’s refrigerator” and allegedly began drinking what “Snyder and I realized the content of the jars was apple moonshine.” Wood and Bissonnette were off the clock, but Pace says they “proceeded to consume a portion of the contents of the jars while still in the department’s kitchen and still in their uniforms.”

Pace also cited the moment later in the day when Steve Wood came by the station to ice down a beer cooler, as he was on his way to Shane Wood’s house. “In just a few short days, several infractions have occurred by multiple members,” Pace writes. “I would have to think that these kinds of acts have become commonplace, or by any means acceptable. The proper channels were explored with no recourse.”

The memo does not mention drinking by Roberts, but the Jan. 4 letter from Campbell to Roberts does so. “Allegations have been submitted to me that you consumed alcohol during the Fire Department holiday party on December 14, 2012 and immediately thereafter responded to a fire in a city vehicle,” Campbell wrote Roberts.

Shane Wood said he could not speak on the matter while it was under investigation. Roberts could not be reached. Small though it is, the Flagler Beach Fire Department has been riven by politics—if not exclusively internal, then by way of community pressures, as factions and allegiances have formed over one group of firefighters or another. When Roberts was reinstituted in summer following the controversy over out-of-town trips, some celebrated, others didn’t. The allegations in this case, however, are more serious. In summer, the controversy centered on unauthorized trips that the chief and others nevertheless conducted on their own time to inspect fire trucks, though a fire truck company paid travel costs. Some commissioners were unreservedly complimentary of the chief and the trips’ purpose, which the commission, in effect, had obliquely authorized.

Allegations of drinking on city property, or driving a city fire truck to a fire call, are more serious, as they would entail the direct violation of city policy.

“It’s serious enough that I believe that they needed to be placed on leave while this investigation took place,” Campbell said. “We have a third party conducting the investigation, there’ll be a series of interviews and we’ll find out fact from possible fiction, or fiction from possible fact, whatever it ends up being. But it was serious enough that I took that action Friday afternoon in fact.”

The investigation could take weeks.

“I’ve stressed that it be a timely and compressed cycle time,” Campbell said. “I hope that that doesn’t take us weeks to complete, and our attorney and our third party investigator is on board with that.”

The fire department has six paid firefighters, plus the fire chief. It also has some paid volunteers, two of whom were moved into the regular ranks of the department to cover for the other firefighters’ absence. Campbell said city residents should not fear for their safety in case of fire incidents, and that county and Palm Coast fire departments are always at the ready with assistance—as indeed they were on the Dec. 14 fire.

“I am confident that we’ve got our ship in order, and none of our citizens and none of our public should be alarmed with our level of services as we go forward,” Campbell said.

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32 Responses for “Flagler Beach Fire Chief and 3 Others On Leave as Drinking Allegations Trigger Investigation”

  1. whodat says:

    Watched Clair Metz on News 2 yesterday. Makes the County look great. Another black eye. What’s with this Manager and FB Fire Dept. These love and hate relationships have been gone on in the 90;s too. It;s all about egos, power and personalities. Electing and picking the right people is crucial.


  2. Ff/pm says:

    Mutiny, lack of brotherhood, ratting firefighters, “also concerned”, and “used to work there”. lets all sit back for a moment and look at the big picture. 4 grown men, professionals, life savers, what have you. Drinking on the job? How is this an arguement? What job field or proffesion is this even acceptable? Mr. Pace is in a bad possition right now, he was forced to do the right thing! Wake up people! There is no arguement here. Brotherhood?! What about the two other responding agencies at the fire!? Where is the brotherhood when they should have to respond to intoxicated crews assisting them? Thats not looking out for a fellow brother. “Also Concerned”, you discussed me. You witnessed employees drinking and taking drugs and responding to calls? You are just as negligent as those responding.
    @”used to work there”. So hostile towards the county guys. I dont think there the ones on the chopping block right now. BTW, Why aren’t you employed there anymore?


  3. Career Firefighter says:

    At Charlene Mathis: As a career professional firefighter for almost 30 years, I find your comment about a true brother way off. What you seem to miss is the fact that these people who drank whether volunteer, or career firefighters responded to a structure fire and put a lot of other lives in danger being that of citizens, or other professional firefighters, and volunteer firefighters that were on the scene, and or driving oversized/heavy equipment, hum!!! .

    Firefighting by nature is a fluid, & dynamic changing event, a very simple call can turn tragic in the matter of seconds, if the wrong tactics are performed. Every year firefighters all around the world die because of a lack of understanding of fire dynamics and failure to recognize key indicators and the potential impact of tactical operations on fire behavior. What does alcohol do to your judgment? It “impairs” it, right???

    I have personally lost 3 “BROTHER” Firefighters well know to me in tragic fires they were fighting, these were career professional firefighters, who may or may not have made the wrong tactical error. Were they drinking Nope, So for you to say the ratted firefighter is not a brother is wrong. They stood up and thought about what could have happen, but didn’t thank god, and did the right thing. And for that I say thank you, and in my book you’re not a Rat. The same thing I would have done, I can turn off the friends, and what’s right and safe switch all the time, and have in fact turned in my brother/friend firefighters for something totally against are oath that we take upon entering the service.

    At used to work there: All I can say People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. That station has been the scene of many romper room antics in the past, and present. I’m quite sure they have had their fare share of whiners, complainers, sloppy workers, and just by this last incident a very ineffective leadership, that is apparently reluctant to enforce discipline. And I definitely suggest anybody to stop by and visit the firehouse. Remember cameras have been placed in that station by the city’s own Fire chief, Why?? Because of departmental equipment or stuff that has come up missing in the past and previous childish romper room antics. Am I saying the county or Palm Coast, or as a matter of fact any other agency doesn’t have issues either? No, And if they do, they haven’t made the media like this agency and city has. Why???

    Extremely poor judgment was made, and performed by all the members involved. That poor judgment again thank god didn’t get anybody seriously hurt, or worse killed. Alcohol of any kind has no business being bought on or off duty on city property, even stored in station refrigerators, and even worse consumed in or on any County, City property, whether on duty or not, in uniform or not, you’re supposed to be a professional and have some common sense, and they failed that one miserably.

    I hope this incident is put to bed quickly and not drawn out. Let all the facts be laid out, and judgment and punishment dealt, as this again blacks the eyes of the real professional firefighters who are there through the thick and thin ready and willing to give their sober lives for the unknown.


  4. tom dooley says:

    @charlene mathis. so your saying it’s okay to drink and drive?? does it not make me a “brother” if i don’t report illegal activities??? there are law’s in place for all “brother’s/sister’s” to abide by; nobody is “above the law”. why don’t we wait until all the fact’s are in before saying that this is a “witch hunt”. hopefully it’s not true; if it is; hopefully next time they choose to drink/drive they will not hurt anyone. i for one WILL report anyone that i think is drinking and getting behind the wheel; brother/sister or not. it’s called being an “AMERICAN” who lives by the law of the land.that is what is wrong with this country; everyone turning their back’s when they see something wrong because they don’t want to be labled a “snitch”.


    • charlene mathis says:

      Tom – no, I’m not saying it’s okay to drink and drive. And yes, you should report anyone that is drinking and driving. As you said, we will wait until all the facts are in and see what the FDLE finds.


  5. OU812HUH? says:

    Seems to me that Flagler Beach has had more scandals and scams since the new management took over. Hmmm. Now we seem to be on the news more than ever before what do I know? I’ve only lived here my entire life and never have I seen it like this. I would look into the c/managers involvement first and foremost . Awfully strange that he lost against the chief a few months ago and now, all of a sudden, we have all these so called informant letters show up against him and those who supported him. Good job Mr. C. You got the big bad wolves out so now you can fill the positions with the rest of your over paid goonies you keep sliding in there. This city has gone down hill steadily and will continue to do so under his reign. He has his own agenda and is putting it all into place. No need to complain about it FB commission, you picked him and gave him a review “just shy of glowing”. Is he really that good? Well maybe he is. We are on the map for sure now!! Great job Flagler Beach and keep up those wonderful decisions. They are really paying off. Stay tuned… I hear there is more to come, we’ll see.

    The four guys on trial here are innocent until proven guilty. That is, if this is still America we live in right? No proof they did anything wrong. Someone simply said they did. Do we really convict like this on “he said, she said”? You people are quick to condemn on here. I want to see proof like the arrest record of these four men and/ or breath test results.


  6. N. O. says:

    I have to agree that the American way is innocent until proven guilty and to defame these four people, an entire department, and/or even the city over as yet an unfounded allegation is wrong and sets up all involved for more controversy, negative publicity and costly legal action. I too, beleive that if the allegation is substantiated, then appropriate action should be taken by the city — up to and including termination. But from what I read in the initial story and have heard through that ever famous grapevine, these are two separate incidents. One was the fire after the Christmas party and the other was only two men after shift on Christmas day. Please don’t confuse the two to create one glorious hoopla. By the way, how did Pace and Snyder determine it was “apple moonshine?” That’s pretty specific information. Did they also taste it? Did they smell it? Could it have been vodka? Gin? A saline soluition? Water? To be so precise in their allegation suggests they may have had some knowledge of the contents beforehand – and then should be considered as an accomplice.

    However, I have to question why it seems only Fire Department “scandal”is played out in the press. Why didn’t Flagler Live or Channel 13 or any other news agency report on the controversial and recent departure of other employees? Why wasn’t it publicized that the city manager “performed” sexual harrassment to many of the female city hall workers with his touting of a tasteless tshirt and the associated comments he made about it “looking good on us”. If we weren’t so afraid of losing our jobs through relaliation, he’d have one hell of a lawsuit on his hands. But as the reader above so eloquently stated, he’s “just shy of glowing” in the eyes of those we serve. Ha! Furthermore, I could allege that he (or any person) made unwanted sexual advances against me. Would he then take himself out of the mix and go on administrative leave pending an investigation? I also hear they may be allegations forthcoming against the “acting chief’. Is he on administrative leave pending an investigation? Allegations are cheap (shots) and not worthy of an attack on a person’s character and livelihood condemnation until determined founded. We really should be sweeping our own back door first.


  7. Maurice says:

    N.O. is a GO! Way to put it in persceptive. Let’s see if one size fits all when it comes to disciplinary action.


  8. OU812HUH? says:

    @ NO – Very well put!! No one should fear for their job when they are the ones who are victimized. Harassment is NO joke and charges should be pressed on anyone who does it. No matter what position they hold or the level of their authority. Shame on him and/or them.

    The answer to your question is “NO”. He would not step down in my opinion from what I read and hear. He would most likely sweep it under the rug like all the other scandals the public hasn’t even heard yet. I wish all involved at the station much luck. They all seem like such good people and I know we all appreciate their service when we need them! On behalf of so many I say, “thank you!” to those men.


  9. FB citizen says:

    N.O.: while your argument is very well written, and points out some points lost in the circus that is the media, you are missing something. While it is true these are two separate incidents, in no way shape or form should Mr. Snyder and Mr. Pace be considered accomplices. In the article published on another internet news site, and the above article also implies, it was their belief the two were drinking moonshine and they immediately documented it and followed their policy concerning what they believed happened. Of course, like you, I also agree the media and public condemnation of these two seems premature…I don’t, however, agree with your eloquently hidden diversion tactic; i.e. Mr. A and Mr. B may be guilty, but what about Mr. C and Mr. D? The facts we, as the general public, know are multiple people came forward with written allegations and the city is now investigating. That is it and that is all…to assume anything more is irresponsible.


  10. tom dooley says:

    @N.O. why didn’t you report this sexual harrasment charge against f.b.’s previous city manager with the state attorney’s office? yes there would have been an “internal” investagation. no job is worth that.


  11. conserned citizen says:

    This long list of problems would warrant a change in control of the fire department this being the final straw for me. Flagler County has a good reputation and much higher trained employees to do the job they should be asked to take over operations at the station & consolidate the city firefighters. This would be possible if not for the special interests of the volunteer fire fighter on the City of Flagler Beach board, I won’t mention his name but he is a major voice on why the City continue to not be consolidated . Consolidation would provide a higher trained responders which would render advanced medical care at no extra cost because the County is and has been doing the job already anyway . the boys club should be closed down.. and let professionals do the job…….


  12. Pam says:

    When is Flagler Beach going to say “enough”? Our fire department is a source of continuous problems and needs to be unloaded. It is long overdue. We need professionals protecting our city. In other words, when are we going to turn our fire protection duties to the county. Our present arrangement is a waste of money.


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