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Between Firings and Wrist-Slaps: How the Flagler Beach Fire Department Was Gutted

| February 28, 2013

It's twilight for the Flagler Beach Fire Department.

It’s twilight for the Flagler Beach Fire Department.

An independent investigation confirmed charges of alcohol use by Flagler Beach city firefighters, including some who responded to a fire call under the influence and others who bought, stored and drank alcohol while on duty at a fire station.

Five firefighters including Chief Martin Roberts, two full-timers and two volunteers were fired.

The probe by Daniel W. Langley, an attorney with the Fishback Dominick law firm in Winter Park, also uncovered evidence of a poorly run Fire Department divided by warring factions. A city official who knew and trusted the firefighters expressed shock after hearing about the scandal.

Steps taken to shore up the shattered Fire Department and protect the city include elevating some volunteer firefighters to full-time paid status, at least temporarily. The fired employees have 30 days to appeal to the city’s Personnel Review Board.

Fired along with the chief were full-time paid firefighters Jacob Bissonnette and Shane S. Wood, as well as volunteer firefighters Steven W. Wood and Barbara Haspiel.

“When I first heard about it, shortly after it happened, I was surprised, disappointed,” said Flagler Beach City Commission Chairman Jane Mealy. “These are all people I know.”

Mealy stressed that the volunteer firefighters elevated at least during the short term to full-time, paid status have received training. “One of my first questions was, are we protected,” she said. “The positions are temporarily filled with volunteers who have training. They aren’t lesser firemen. They just weren’t on the payroll.”

A separate investigation resulted in a three-day suspension without pay for firefighter Bobby Pace on an unrelated charge of padding the number of hours worked at the Fire Department by people required by courts to perform community service. This case figured prominently in conspiracy theories voiced by one faction of firefighters against another. But it also highlighted the sharp difference between the way Campbell handled some of the firefighters who broke city policy regarding alcohol and Pace, whose falsifying of records was arguably more grave and consequential an act than a firefighter’s merely storing fake moonshine in a department frige for less than 24 hours.

City Manager Bruce Campbell told the firefighters he intended to fire them in letters dated Feb. 14 and 15. Campbell expressed special disappointment in the letter to the former fire chief, Roberts. The chief was fired after the city investigation found he responded to a fire call after drinking alcohol at the Fire Department holiday party on Dec. 14, 2012. Also, Roberts directed Steven Wood to respond to the same fire call even though he knew Steven Wood also had consumed alcohol at the same party, according to the investigation.

In the letter to Roberts, Campbell noted that the city investigator reported a “high degree of intra-department discord” and lack of organizational control. Campbell wrote that he had lost confidence in the ability of Roberts to lead the city’s Fire Department.

“Finally, I find it exceedingly disappointing and discouraging that you did not advise me of any of these issues and complaints until after the investigation into your own actions was begun,” Campbell wrote in the termination letter to Roberts. “I have previously discussed with you the importance of advising me of issues going on within the Fire Department. Prior to this investigation and after you had knowledge of the complaints that resulted in this investigation and two others conducted by the city, I asked you if there was anything going on at the Fire Department that I should be aware of. I cannot understand why, yet again, I had to hear about allegation of violations of Personnel Policies from others and not the department head responsible for the Fire Department.”

An attempt to reach Martin for comment was unsuccessful. His phone was not accepting messages. City Manager Campbell did not return repeated calls for comment.

“Other than Chief Roberts and Assistant Chief Shane Wood, in the Chief’s absence, there appears to be the lack of a formal chain of command structure when both the Chief and Assistant Chief are absent from the Firre Station,” the investigation noted.

The investigator discovered a “high degree” of discord between two factions of Fire Department employees. Faction one included Shane Wood and Jacob Bissonnette. Faction two included Bobby Pace, Dusty Snyder, David Kennedy and Stephen Cox.

“The intra-department discord described herein is a major problem affecting the operations of the Fire Department and (as) such shows a lack of organizational control within the Fire Department,” according to the investigation.

Faction one claimed the alcohol allegations were payback for the investigation of Pace and payback from the city manager for an age discrimination claim by Roberts, which Roberts lost. The investigator denied those conspiracy claims as both untrue and irrelevant. Faction one claimed faction two members were hoping for promotions if people were fired because of the alcohol allegations.

“I do not find the nature of such potential testimony to be relevant as to whether the four accused did or did not do the things they are accused of doing by the complaints,” Langley wrote in his 22-page investigation report. Langley added that employee decisions were not in the scope of his investigation. “Allegations rose from the bottom of the chain of command to the city manager,” Langley wrote, giving no merit to the claim by Martin of retaliation from the city manager.

Regardless of motivation, Langley determined the testimony from other firefighters, a camera at a fire station and call logs provided a “preponderance of evidence” confirming the alcohol use.

Langley noted that under the influence is a stricter standard for firefighters than the criminal DUI standard for civilians. The presence of any alcohol in the body “endangers themselves, their fellow Fire Department members, other agencies’ fires responders and the general public,” Langley wrote. He called it conduct “unbecoming of fire service personnel.”

On Dec. 14, 2012, the Fire department held a holiday party at the Friends Café, 220 S. Flagler Beach Ave., on the same street and close by Fire Station 24. The café was closed to the public. Fire personnel were allowed to bring their own alcohol to the party.

Shift C was on duty during the party, including Shift Leader David Kennedy, Firefighter Steve Cox and volunteer Firefighters Ray Turish, Corey Butts and James Moses. Kennedy told the volunteers to change out of uniform if they wanted to drink alcohol.

Kennedy told the investigator he saw Steve Wood filling a cooler of beer with ice for the party at Fire Station 11. Steve Wood and his wife, Diane, also brought apple cider moonshine purchased at a store in Tennessee to the party.

Steve Wood told the investigator he drank five bottles of non-alcoholic beer. He said he’s diabetic and alcohol is bad for him. However, the investigator said a preponderance of evidence, mainly statements by witnesses under oath, determined that Steve Wood had consumed regular alcoholic beer. Witnesses also saw Steve Wood take a sip of the moonshine and eat cherries soaked in the moonshine.

Witnesses also saw Roberts drink wine at the party, although he told the investigator he didn’t like the wine and put it aside. Roberts acknowledged that a second glass of wine was poured for him.

A structure fire was reported at 9:40 p.m. No member of Shift C had consumed alcohol at the party, but the investigator noted that Roberts drank alcohol, responded to the fire call and assumed command of the scene. Roberts also directed Steve Wood to drive Tower 11 to the scene of the fire, even though he knew that Wood had also consumed alcohol at the party. Kennedy had told Roberts not to let anyone who had been drinking respond to the fire.
“Chief Roberts ignored such sound advice by Kennedy, and instead, while having alcohol in his system, Chief Roberts left the Christmas party to respond to the structure fire in his city-issued Chief 11 SUV vehicle,” the investigation noted.

The investigator also wrote that Roberts knew Steve Wood had drank alcohol, but gave Wood permission to respond and allowed him to operate Tower 11.
Barbara Haspiel responded to the fire to direct traffic. She admitted to drinking at the holiday party.

In another alcohol case, on Dec. 24, Jacob Bissonnette contacted Flagler County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Weston to deliver for purchase two bottles of apple pie flavored faux moonshine, an alcoholic beverage Weston mixed and boiled down at home using 100 proof grain alcohol, sugar and other ingredients, according to the investigation. The drink was more like a homemade cocktail than a moonshine.

Weston arrived at Fire Station 11, out of uniform and not on duty, the investigator reported. Jason Bissonnette and Shane Wood were on duty and together when the jars of alcohol were delivered by Weston. Bissonnette paid about $10 for the cocktail, the investigator noted, then stored the concoction in a Fire Department refrigerator.

A Flagler County Sheriff’s spokesman said a Sheriff’s Office investigation determined the investigator’s report on Weston, the sheriff’s lieutenant, was “unfounded.” The lieutenant had in fact mixed various store-bought alcoholic and other ingredients to make what he called “Apple Pie,” according to an internal investigation, but the investigation concluded that it was not moonshine, and the sale was not conducted as a “business,” but as an exchange between friends that involved the defraying of some of Weston’s costs.

According to the investigation, Bissonnette and Shane Wood each took a sip of the “apple pie” moonshine after other firefighters arrived with food for Christmas dinner and found the alcohol in the refrigerator. Both took the alcohol home at the end of their shift.

The city manager accepted Bissonnette’s claim that he did not drink alcohol during his paid shift, but wrote that “knowingly bringing alcohol onto City property, particularly by a public safety officer to a public safety building, and consuming same on City property, albeit after your shift ended, is a serious violation.” The city manager noted in the letter that he appreciated Bissonnette’s forthrightness, candor and contrition, adding, “this decision was not an easy one for me to make.”

Shane Wood gave conflicting statements during city disciplinary hearings, according to the termination letter from the city manager. “Furthermore, I find (it) curious that on one hand you stated during the pre-disciplinary hearing that you did not possess the alcohol while at the Fire Station, on the other hand, you conceded that you consumed the alcohol while at the Fire Station,” Campbell wrote.

An unrelated investigation resulted in a three-day suspension for Firefighter Bobby Pace. Pace admitted padding the number of hours worked by a woman on probation working community service hours at the Fire Department. “Your explanation for rounding up the time on the time sheets was to reward the parolee for working hard and doing good work,” Campbell, using remarkably dubious reasoning, wrote in a letter to Pace. “I find as a mitigating factor that there was no self-interest being served in your actions; however, the violation is significant and unacceptable.”

It’s the city manager job to hire city employees, including the chief’s post. The City Commission hires only the manager and the city attorney. Mealy, the City Commission chairman, said she talked with Campbell, who told her he would search for a new fire chief, but she did not know how wide the search would be. She would prefer hiring someone from outside to avoid jealousies among people in the department who would be passed over. She also expressed confidence in elevating the volunteers to keep the Fire Department running at full staff.

“All our shifts are covered by staff,” Mealy said. “Hopefully, we can move on from here. The citizens should know that they’re safe.”

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35 Responses for “Between Firings and Wrist-Slaps: How the Flagler Beach Fire Department Was Gutted”

  1. Ruben says:

    What happened to alcohol counseling in this situation. It was unfortunate that a second chance and arbitration was not considered. I’m not sure that all council members can say they never ever drove home under the influence. In house discourse is handled by the Chief if he can’t then focus on his inability to manage. 30 days to appeal means there is a chance to mend a many wrongs.

       11 likes

    • question says:

      Reuben- So you want the message to be sent that its ok to drink at work, not to mention a fire station and if you get caught we are just going to send you for counseling? All that is, is a cheap and easy way out! And id bet just about every one of those council members has driven home over the legal limit, but that has nothing to do with the situation at hand, these guys drove CITY APARATUS- EMERGENCY- INTOXICATED!!!! Counseling seems logical, HARDLY!! And then you want in house discourse handled by the chief, the same one that responded in a city vehicle, after drinking to a fire- good idea! His decision making seems to be spot on! 30 days to appeal and see just how creative these lawyers are to twist and turn the truth! You did read the investigative report right?

         1 likes

      • intheknow57 says:

        I read the report Reuben…where does it say anyone was intoxicated…talking about twisting the truth?????

           4 likes

      • Anonymous says:

        To question, no it’s not ok to drink and drive while responding or at the station. This appears to be an accepted conduct that the Chief. Tolerated and or condoned. I did not read the investigative report so I can not comment to it. To say the Chief is solely responsible is lees than realistic. But we are not as perfect as God nor you expect. I agree with punishment and I agree with rules being followed. I also understand that common sense will not always be followed if one has no common sense, like people say you can’t fix stupid. but is this just being stupid or is this arrogance. Their probably are no protections for these people because of the ways the rules are written for these offenses and they don’t have a union to negotiate these problems. Shame on them but discarding a persons career because the city doesn’t want to work it out civilly seams overboard. And appears like the easy way out for the city. I don’t know if you have ever been a firefighter but they are a different breed. Their brother hood and teamwork on the job makes them a family in a common cause . With dedication to selfless commitment to the public including the city council. You don’t kick your family out of the house cause they screwed up. One of these people may well end up saving your life in the future whether they are on the job or not. You still think we should throw thier careers in the gutter?

           1 likes

      • Ruben says:

        To question, no it’s not ok to drink and drive while responding or at the station. This appears to be an accepted conduct that the Chief. Tolerated and or condoned. I did not read the investigative report so I can not comment to it. To say the Chief is solely responsible is lees than realistic. But we are not as perfect as God nor you expect. I agree with punishment and I agree with rules being followed. I also understand that common sense will not always be followed if one has no common sense, like people say you can’t fix stupid. but is this just being stupid or is this arrogance. Their probably are no protections for these people because of the ways the rules are written for these offenses and they don’t have a union to negotiate these problems. Shame on them but discarding a persons career because the city doesn’t want to work it out civilly seams overboard. And appears like the easy way out for the city. I don’t know if you have ever been a firefighter but they are a different breed. Their brother hood and teamwork on the job makes them a family in a common cause . With dedication to selfless commitment to the public including the city council. You don’t kick your family out of the house cause they screwed up. One of these people may well end up saving your life in the future whether they are on the job or not. You still think we should throw thier careers in the gutter?

           7 likes

        • question says:

          If their decision making is as poor as it appears they dont deserve jobs! Earn your position, and know there are thousands of people out there waiting to take your job at the drop of a hat! Unfortunately, they made their OWN bed! Never said the chief was “solely” responsible, asked you what your thoughts on his poor decsision making were, and why in the world he should be the one calling the shots as far as discipline for the guilty parties when he is just as guilty!?!? And as far as “you still think we should throw their carrers in the gutter” goes, who threw them in the gutter? Their choices are the ones that put them in the position their in, no one elses! Taking responsibility for your own actions sucks sometimes! Oh and if you cant fix stupid, why employ it?

             1 likes

      • FB Insider says:

        “question” – I did read the report. All of it. In fact, I read it again because a lot of it startled me. Not by what I read of the firefighters’ actions, but more-so the seemingly clear motive behind it all. I will touch on a few:

        1.) You stated: “these guys drove CITY APARATUS- EMERGENCY- INTOXICATED!!!!” As I stated I read the report. One of the issues with the report in my eyes as a professional is that there were TWO, SEPARATE situations here and they should have been dealt with separately. Your statement is nothing short of ignorant. The report stated Steve Wood and Chief Roberts were ACCUSED of drinking and then responding in city vehicles. Nowhere in the report does it state a Blood Alcohol Content was sampled, via breath test or blood draw. It also doesn’t state that either were administered Field Sobriety Tests by a certified law enforcement officer.

        2.) Bissonnette and Assistant Chief Wood are accused of obtaining alcohol and storing alcohol on city property. Their admitted tasting of the jars’ contents was done off duty. While a violation, it is not a criminal act nor is it as severe as responding to an emergency call in a city vehicle after consuming alcohol. Let me also remind you, that was never proven either according to the report.

        3.) The total cost of this “independent, impartial” investigation was funded by the city. Let me ask you this “question”; if you are paying $18,000.00 (approximate) to someone, your going to tell me that the fact that your funding the investigation with already per-determined notions of what may or may not have gone on, had zero influence on the investigator? This investigation should have been conducted by a LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY. It should have been done by either the Flagler Beach Police Department or the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. This way, with no additional tax dollars wasted, it would have been impartial and fair and done legally.

        4.) Nobody said it was ok to drink at work. However, I know of many employers who throw parties in the office. If people are off the clock, is it wrong? Not sure there IS a right or wrong answer but the fact is, two of the individuals in this whole “fiasco” made a poor judgement call and stored alcohol in a fridge overnight. Is it really the end of the world? Like I said earlier, drinking and working or responding are MUCH different and should be handled as such.

        5.) Lastly, does anyone else find it ironic that Barbara Haspiel was determined to be a “credible witness” during the investigation? I don’t see how, as it was later determined SHE also admitted to drinking and driving in her personal vehicle to the fire December 14th and has since been terminated from volunteering by the city. This is also the same woman who earlier claimed she was giving Chief Roberts drinks. How credible is she now? This now, in my opinion, sheds new light not only on who was deemed “credible”, but further how “credible” the investigator was in determining so.

        I encourage you to read the report again. If you can’t see through the smoke, your blind.

           9 likes

        • xfbfdmember says:

          they all need to go. why wasn’t the pension system investigated it has been manipulated by giving credits to family members that didn’t earn them to qualify for the pension.it is well known within the station and the city is not doing anything about it.maybe somebody needs to go to the state and ask why .

             0 likes

          • Steve Wood says:

            I am amazed at how these false accusations can keep coming up about myself and my family and I am getting extremely tired of it. It has been 2 and a half months and I have not made a comment to and about anyone on the fire dept. But it is going to get made now.
            The pension was approved by the commission and set up to be shown that the volunteers would have to meet certain requirements made by by the city. XFBFDMEMBER evidently had trouble meeting these. All that is needed is 50 points for the year, you got points for attending Business Meetings, you got points for attending drills, you got points for signing up for a 12 hour standby or running calls, you got points for attending special functions that the dept put on, that is it not much to do it just took a little effort on there part. There was a paper trail for every thing that was done as the city wanted it that way and at the first of the month they wanted that information. I do not understand where all this HATRED has come from toward me and my FAMILY when all we did was devote our time to the city fd and help when it was needed. You all know where I live be a man and make your accusations face to face. OK I am fired from the FD what more do you want.

               10 likes

  2. intheknow57 says:

    The haters and their motives and histories will eventually come out. Everything in due time. I am hoping and praying that justice will prevail in the end. I am tired of it as well Steve. All this time many people have been protected and not had their names and pictures all over the news. Hopefully things will work out and they will get a taste of their own medicine. In time, they will show themselves as the phony cowards they truly are. I don’t even know how they can look at themselves in the mirror.

       7 likes

    • question says:

      LOL- Motive behind it? Do you have any other excuses for them?? And you are right, they were 2 seperate incidents. And i agree, not a penny should have been spent on the investigation! Chief and Steve were “accused” of drinking at a CHRISTMAS PARTY, ever been to one? I bet they werent the only ones there, therefore you have what they call witnesses, you dont have to have blood alcohol tests or field sobriety tests when you have the overwhelming evidence that they actually provided themselves!! As for Bissonette and assistant Chief Wood, you have an Assistant Chief witness the purchasing of an illegal substance (while on duty) and then allows it to be kept in the station and then decides to consume some before leaving- I know he was off duty…. Heres the problem, when you start seeing decisions this poor being made from your assistant chief not only does it instill in employees such as bissonette that its ok to do, eventually you continue to build on these bad choices until someone gets hurt or killed! You play with fire, youre going to get burned!! Seems a little to appropriate for the situation! Oh, and eliminate Haspiels testimony, how many others were there and testified to the same thing? The funny thing is, this investigator couldnt have nailed this case anymore on the head than he did! He called out the credible and non-credible people spot on! And im seeing very clearly through the smoke that indivduals such as you and a few others are putting up!

         0 likes

  3. FB Insider says:

    On the “Firehouse” section of Flagler Live, the brief paragraph regarding this article states: “Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell fired the fire chief and four others while retaining Acting Fire Chief Bobby Pace, who falsified records, after a three-day suspension.”

    Let me ask the general public: do you feel good about that? A guy ADMITTED; only after being caught, to falsifying COURT RECORDS and received a 3-day suspension. Other members of the department violate city administrative code and receive termination? On a first time offense at that!? Let me give you all some more information from some of the “inside members” of the fire department:

    Last year, Campbell allowed two Lieutenants positions to be placed in the budget. Talks around the fire department were they were going to the two senior members (most time in service AND fire officer schooling); Pace and Bissonnette. These positions were cut on the third budget reading. Campbell stated he would not pass the two Lieutenant’s positions while having an Assistant Chief. Knowing the Chief wouldn’t demote Shane Wood for no reason, the positions were cut.

    Pace has since been on a hunt to get the promotions back in the budget; with no success. With the Chief not willing to budge on demoting Wood, Pace had hit a road block. So now, you have Probation Court calling to verify records and Bissonnette is the unlucky one to take the call. After being assigned to investigate the matter on the station surveillance system, Bissonnette returns to the Chief with the answer: Pace in fact falsified records.

    Bissonnette tells the Chief; who was then out of town the next few days and didn’t get to speak to Pace or the city manager. Then, when Bissonnette knows Pace is going to be hit with the news, he gives him a “heads up” about it. Turns out, I hear they were former partners for over a year, sharing a shift. So, Bissonnette does Pace a “solid” and then Pace looses it. According to my source, he was flipping out cursing and turning red. Then, a few days later, WALA! Allegations emerge.

    Now, let’s recap – Pace can’t get promoted to Lieutenant with an Assistant Chief. So now, he gets with his “Faction” as the report states and gets everyone to realize they all benefit from Chief, Bissonnette and Wood gone. Everyone moves up, three now possibly to Lieutenant in next year’s budget. In addition, Pace moves up to “top dog” slot.

    Now how is it, MR. CAMPBELL, that when TWO MEMBERS (not including the Chief and Steve Wood, that’s a separate issue) violate city’s administrative code and they get placed on Paid Administrative Leave for over a month and drug through the media, get thrown in with an ENTIRELY SEPARATE incident’s investigation, and ultimately fired when you have someone in a Chief position, responsible for the documentation of budgetary spending, personnel statistics, medical reports and other official documents yet he has not only been accused, but ADMITTED TO and is still being investigated LEGALLY for . . . yet still on the job?

    City corruption at it’s finest. Oh, and another little tidbit of information FLAGLER BEACH RESIDENTS: your entire fire department, including the Chief, has less than 20 years of experience in the fire service. According to the fire department website (before they removed the terminated members), between the Chief, Wood and Bissonnette you lost close to 70. But don’t worry, according to Campbell “the level of service hasn’t changed”. I wonder how many really bought that.

       5 likes

  4. madirishman says:

    Why is it NOT o-k for department heads or was not o-k for Chief Roberts to speak to or with Commissioners without going through the City Manager, but it is now o-k for Commissioner Shupe to visit Acting Chief Pace while on duty at the fire station any old time he wants….and has on multiple occasion. More incidence of favoritism and the city managers desire to remove Roberts? This fiasco would be laughable if peoples reputations, families and livelihoods were not involved.

       5 likes

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