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Pay an Issue as Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito and Others Aim for Jobs Elsewhere

| July 23, 2013

Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito is looking to walk . (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito is looking to walk . (© FlaglerLive)

He doesn’t want to leave. But Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito has applied for the top job at the Daytona Beach Fire Department. He’s one of several high-rank or high-profile members of the Flagler County Fire Rescue department who have either applied for jobs or landed them elsewhere. Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey has repeatedly told county commissioners during budget workshops this summer that low pay and the absence of raises for five years running was leading several members of his senior staff to look elsewhere.

Bob Growick, the county’s fire marshal, has just tendered his resignation to take up a job a similar job in St. Augustine for $15,000 more. Mike Bazanos, the Number 2 man in the department, applied for a division command post in Daytona Beach, a lower-ranked position than in Flagler that nevertheless would have earned him about $15,000 higher pay. He did not get that job. But Dennis Kline, anchor of the department’s championship fire-rescue team–the team that won three world championships at a European EMS competition–left two weeks ago to take a job as a medic on Air One, Volusia County’s emergency helicopter.

“I told Craig I don’t want to leave here, I own a house here in the city, I love it here, my wife works for the county,” Petito said. “I’m really not looking to leave, just looking for the pay.” He hasn;t been called for an interview.

Petito is paid $78,000 a year. The pay range for the Daytona job is $81,052 to $143,578. Palm Coast’s fire chief, Mike Beadle, makes over $100,000, and his second-in-command makes just under $100,000.

“In the past, a county job paid less than a city job, that was because county benefits were higher,” Petito said. That’s changed: benefits have been pared back, and “the low pay doesn’t cut it anymore.” Between the absence of raises, health insurance costs climbing almost every year, the state taking 3 percent out of state workers’ paycheck for the retirement fund since last year, and the payroll tax returning to its normal level, Petito said he was netting 20 percent less than when he started the job as chief.

“It’s not just me, it’s the same thing for my wife, same thing for the guys who work in the field, same thing for anyone who works for the county,” he said.

But commissioners are not in a pay-raise mood. Coffey had proposed raising county employees’ pay by 3 percent next year, at a cost of $1 million to the budget. But the county is also facing a deficit, and on Monday commissioners said they’d be willing to grant a raise, but more likely one in the 2 to 2.5 percent range. That would essentially be a year’s worth of cost-of-living adjustment rather than an actual raise, and it would not compensate for the previous five years’ lack of a raise.

Daytona Beach posted the fire chief’s job in spring, after the retirement of Fire Chief Jim Bland, and closed the posting in May. The job requires a Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science, Emergency Medical Services, Public Administration, or a related field. Bland immediately took the chief’s job in Holly Hill after stepping down in Daytona. According to the job posting, Daytona Beach was looking for a candidate with “10 years of progressively responsible full-time experience in an organized paid fire department or related municipal service, five of which must have been in a managerial capacity, preferably at the level of Battalion Chief or above with responsibility for personnel and budget management.”

It is up to City Manager Jim Chisholm to cull through the applicants and appoint a chief. The city clerk’s office said no finalist list has been drawn up yet.

The Daytona Beach Fire Department isn’t much bigger than Flagler’s. It has around 90 people total, compared to Flagler’s 86. Daytona responds to some 19,000 emergency calls a year from seven stations spread over an area 62 square miles, and serving 65,000 residents, a figure that rises toward 400,000 during special events such as car races and spring break. The Daytona department has an insurance rating similar to Flagler County Fire Rescue’s: a 3 (with 1 being the highest-quality rating, 5 being the lowest). Daytona’s is the closest department to Flagler that has as high a rating. Palm Coast’s rating is 4, Flagler Beach’s is 5.

A minimum of three firefighters serve on each engine, as in Flagler County, and at times four. But Flagler County is working on a plan that may reduce its manpower to two firefighters on each engine in order to spread them more thinly across a broader area of coverage: western Flagler County residents have been asking for a station in their area. The county can’t afford to add a station at current manpower ratios. By reducing the number of firefighters on each engine, it can add the station at no additional cost.

The Daytona department has had its troubles of late. Lt. Brad Lee Dyess, 41, a 13-year veteran of the department, was arrested last month on charges of threatening to kill his girlfriend, and was–according to Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood–involved in an Orange County shootout in 2012. Dyess survived a shooting that left three rival motorcycle club members dead in Winter Springs.

Petito is married to Heidi Petito, the county’s director of general services.

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35 Responses for “Pay an Issue as Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito and Others Aim for Jobs Elsewhere”

  1. Steve Wood says:

    According to Chitwood. Hum. What does any of that have to do with his firefighting job. His personal time. NO ONE IS PERFECT.

    • Just Sayin' says:

      His personal time? No one is perfect? Are you insane? He was involved in a murder, and charged with assault and imprisonment after he pistol whipped his girlfriend! Lets not forget he broke a city policy by being a member of a gang known to be involved in violence against the community…Mr. Wood, I did not see you act so forgiving in Flagler Beach with Bobby Pace…you apparently haven’t the slightest idea of the importance of civic duty and moral turpitude when it comes to representing the community as a Firefighter

      Stick to garbage trucks, brother

  2. Gia says:

    They’re making too good money for the job. Then specially all those benefits adding it’s really a lot too much.

    • umm says:

      Tell that to the person saving your (or your family members) life, house, or cat from a tree!

    • Anita says:

      Apparently you weren’t around when three out of control fires converged on Flagler County and the entire county was under order to evacuate. Yes, the whole county! When the county-wide evacuation was lifted and I saw the incredible efforts they made preventing fire from getting any closer to my home than charring my back fence, I couldn’t thank them enough. So in my estimation, these firefighters who save lives and property are worth every penny they earn and more. What you fail to grasp is that we dwell among living fuel that could go up in flames whenever there is a threat of drought. Pray to whatever you believe in that you never have to eat your words.

    • Sarah says:

      You HAVE to be joking! I bet you think teachers make too much too. Remember what you think next time you call 9-1-1.

    • Edman says:

      Some people always think that public service employees get paid too much…. until they need them. The people who make our communities so desirable to live in must be paid comparable to other communities. let’s stop the constant cry about taxes and realize we need yo pay for good public services.

  3. Intrigued Citizen says:

    Is this just a last ditch effort in an attempt to try and get raises for his department? Ruffle the feathers of those above him? If any county employee sees a raise it will be at a waste, as their health benefits will probably increase to eclipse that raise again this year. Not only have these employees not seen raises, COLA or merit, in over five years, but they have also seen the 2% social security tax hike, 3% contirubution to state pension systems, and over a 5% increase in health insurance contributions in that same time frame.So essentially they’ve seen a 10+% paycut. Also, personnel on the fire department with over 5-6 years time make what a new employee makes on their first day. That is unheard of any where else. This will lead to much unrest within, and all time low morale leading to a mass exodus of personnel, leaving the county department to rehire all new unexperienced personnel, ultimately lowering level of service. Maybe, countywide consolidation shall be explored once more, or commisioners get their heads screwed on straight, and put an end to their gross mismanagement of funds, and return their employees to competitive wages to ensure long-term retention.

  4. Jennifer says:

    You just hit on the nerve….these top heavy department heads want more money and yet the rank and file…like Dennis Kline continue to get screwed. Those serving on the engines and ambulances have not received any pay raises and a contract has not been signed in how many years? Doesn’t sound like Petito is doing his job anyway. Now there is going to be a potential of reduction of manpower on the trucks, according to this article, which will affect ISO ratings and insurance for businesses and homes, yet there is whinning about wanting to stay…just needing more money to sit in an air conditioned office and maybe be there part of the time. Get a decent fire chief in that cares about his people not his own paycheck….let this one and his number 2 walk!

  5. Desperate in PC says:

    The guy makes $78,000.00 a year and he’s complaining. What’s that work out to in comparison to the number of fires he puts out with his fire hose ? Taxes are increasing so FAST in this “place” I can’t even afford to shop at Walmart during the “Red Dot” specials. Just like the federal government, county “elite” taking all the taxpayers dollars and expecting more. Raise taxes, and you will see higher crime and more homeless sleeping under the bridges and in the woods.

  6. Flagler Beach Resident says:

    The range of ISO fire insurance ratings is 1 to 10 not 1 to 5. 1 is the best and 10 is the worst.

  7. Florida Native says:

    If he can’t live on $78,000 a year while a lot of people are out of work and hurting I only have one thing to say: Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out.

  8. david f says:

    you have to be competitive to attract and keep good people. This chief is a credit to the county.

  9. Ray Thorne says:

    This county needs to get with the program.. Why would anyone stay here in a public service job when the county north and the county south are paying more?

  10. confidential says:

    Mismanagement of funds as “Intrigued Citizen “mentions as correctly stated, is at the center of Flagler County administration with the BOCC blessings for the past 20 years.
    BOCC approves cuts to the helicopter services, cut the employees raises, cut the tax payers services that sustain this county, to go out and buy overprices elite local developers properties and or build oversized Ginn hangars, Oversized phantom Cakes Across plus other buildings and airport infrastructure, Administrative Taj Mahal, Kim Justice Palace, oversized EMS service complexes and tech/radio communications that are always silence during major storms/fires etc.
    Correct, mismanagement of our hard earned taxes is what is taking place, weather a former banker commissioner was on the BOCC or current retired VIP corporation executive or realtor with bankruptcy on his background, or developer with local connections or St Johns River Water Management Regional Ombudsman all in the BOCC, were or are incapable to have the guts to properly scrutinize and hack off the distorted menu presented by their administrator.
    Wether they do it to serve the local developers powers that be and the local chamber (FCCOC) concerned they may not get their $$ and support for their re-elections campaigns. These BOCC Members are wrong…because the people will vote them out, if they do not change the course and give in to raise our mill to 8.055 that will multiply our tax burden when our homes will rapidly increase their values.

  11. Sarah says:

    “But Flagler County is working on a plan that may reduce its manpower to two firefighters on each engine in order to spread them more thinly across a broader area of coverage.”

    This needs to be addressed too. Have the commissioners even researched going to 2 firefighter engines? This is a major safety issue. I guarantee this would NEVER happen with the Palm Coast fire department. The inequity between these two departments is ridiculous. The county fire department is going to keep losing great people.

  12. fruitcake says:

    It is what it is…if you don’t like what they are paying you …leave!

  13. rthomp11 says:

    Why did we ever get rid of the volunteer fire fighters?? They weren’t manned 24/7 stations but they showed up and ALL districts were covered. The volunteers were trained, not as extensively as the professionals but they were trained. They were first on the scene and helped out when the professionals got on scene. They also maintained the equipment. Now we have no volunteers and no fire station and no coverage in the western part of the county, St Johns Park or Daytona North! And it doesn’t look like the County Commission is interested in getting us one any time soon.

  14. correct pay says:

    The actual number that the fire fighters are being under paid is 29.2%! The person that commented before is absolutely correct. This consistent habit of not doing cost of living adjustments and not giving raises will drive quality employees away again and again. “Budget short fall”, we get it, times are tough, not giving the fire fighters raises because money is tight is understandable. Not giving them cost of living adjustments is absolutely crazy. Adjust their pay to the economy not taking money away in a time where they can barely afford to drive to work.

    • LawAbidingCitizen says:

      its not just the fire fighters, the cops and corrections deputies in flagler county are in the same boat. but the higher ups are banking nicely. the guys and girls busting their butts everyday arent being paid what they should be. a 2 or 2.5% raise isnt a raise. its not even what was taken from them last year for the florida retirement. its a slap in the face to the employees of this county. 5 years with no raise but the county can pave the same roads every 12 months, replant flowers in the same places multiple times per year, etc, etc, etc…..

  15. Arthur Woosley says:

    It certainly sounds like the county is a little screwed up when it comes to salary priorities, remember Chief Petito is charged with the responsibility for the life safety of you the Flagler County residents.

    His current salary is only $ 78.000.00 a year, and he is the director of the counties second most critical department. In addition he is responsible for 100 personnel, and also handles a significant budget, hell, fire fighter paramedics make more than that in many departments.

    One has to wonder who makes these salary decisions, for example why did the current Economic Development CEO start out not so long ago, with a salary of approximately $110, 000.00 a year ? That’s $ 32,000.00 more a year than the fire chief, how many people answer to her, and is her job that of life safety ?

    Yes, it is obvious something is wrong with the salary structure here, this chief and his entire department continue to do a great job for the people of this county, therefore he should be paid commensurate to his responsibility.

    • Rick Belhumeur says:

      Art, I couldn’t agree more. Chief Petito has done an excellent job managing his department. Don’t forget that he has to coordinate services with the cities as well. Many times he is the man in charge of fire rescue services at emergency scenes within the municipalities. The county should restructure the pay scale for his position otherwise we will loose him as a vital person that serves every resident in our county. The commissioners need to keep in mind that it will be hard to replace Chief Petito with someone that has his qualifications and commitment to this county especially if they keep the same pay scale in place. Ask the people that he serves and protects and I’ll bet you they would rather sacrifice a much less essential person!

  16. Jack Howell says:

    Chief Petito has done much to improve Flagler County Fire Rescue since his arrival. Yes, everybody is replaceable. But, to loose him would leave big shoes to fill! Chief Petito is extremely bright, articulate and well trained in Fire/ EMS leadership and fiscal management. We need stability in the position of Chief and we have that with Don. You can’t convince me that the Flagler County cannot find the appropriate funding to keep Chief Petito from leaving. If you want to find the funding, clamp down on the fraud, waste and abuse that goes on daily in our county’s government!

  17. Bill says:

    its not that the rank and file do not deserve a pay increas but when in this little County we see pay like this ~ Petito is paid $78,000 a year. Palm Coast’s fire chief, Mike Beadle, makes over $100,000, and his second-in-command makes just under $100,000.

  18. Ron Boyce says:

    There are ways to increase revenue. But the County refuses to conduct fire safety inspections of Transient Public Lodging Establishments, aka. vacation rentals. This county is failing the public and their own first responders. They should be conducting inspections annually. Yes this inspection is required. Vacation rentals are required to follow additional fire safety codes to protect the public once they are license by the State. Surrounding counties in the State of Florida conduct these inspections and collects fees. These fees can help with shortages.

    But instead of discussing ways to produce revenue our representatives are discussing ways to eliminating manpower on engine companies and once again putting the public in jeopardy . Two firefighter engines! This is a very serious life safety concern for all our citizens including the firefighters themselves. The county is admitting that they do not have the adequate resources. The average response time for an incident may be 4 to 6 minutes after receiving a call but what was the reflex time to transmit the call from the caller to the dispatcher and the dispatcher to the fire station? Know we have an engine responding with two fire fighters. Know upon arrival they need to stretch a line, hook up the a hydrant if one is available and follow the two in two out procedure which is a federal requirement and deal with people trap in the dwelling. My advice to the public is get your selves out of the dwelling before it is to late. This is not only dangerous but absurd.

    Who could blame the upper fire management for leaving. If there is one thing I have learned about politicians they are reactive and not proactive. And yes all our firefighters in this county are under paid. This county needs to wake up before a serious injury or death occurs. This county needs to respect these individuals with appropriate compensation.

  19. Dave says:

    Well as the old saying goes , don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya ! As hard as times are in this county I say that anyone asking for a raise right now and claim they are seeking work else where should be let go in the blink of an eye, Trust me when I say his shoes can filled in a matter of seconds as can any of us as far as our job’s goes , Good luck Petito .

  20. Robert Lewis says:

    So is this article an attempt for Don Petito to be a martyr for his department or to be a crusader for his men?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Don Petito did not seek out this article and would have preferred it not be published. We found out about his candidacy in Daytona Beach independently, sought him out, and he was gracious enough to explain his rationale, to which at any rate the county administrator had alluded several times in open meetings, without naming names. The article illustrates the issue in more details.

  21. Magicone says:

    It was corruption that brought down Wayne county Indiana, It was corruption that brought Detroit to its bankrupt state. It is corruption in Flagler county, and Palm Coast that is bringing us down. This is government corruption that I’m talking about !! Anyone that is working for the city or county with a pension should be looking for another job. Because the way things are going here in Palm Coast we are headed the same way Detroit is and there will be no pension payments available. ! Another problem is that there are NO JOBS in this county so people are evacuating the area.

  22. Bunnell Resident says:

    Don Petito is underpaid for the position he holds. So are our firefighters and paramedics. Perhaps many people would envy a firefighter/paramedic salary of around $45,000 a year until they find out that the standaard work week is 56 hours and the only reason the make 45k is because they have to work 56 hours a week. That along with being required to remain qualified as a firefighter and a paramedic. The costs of constantly training new folks would be largely offset by paying our emergency services a market price for their labor. Its a miracle some folks stay as long as they do.

  23. Marissa says:

    The well is dry. The economy is tanked. You can only tax so much. There are a lot of families struggling to survive in Flagler County. If he can get a better salary elsewhere, by all means do.

  24. Ffms says:

    The county has money, it’s all in what they choose to spend it on. I am a fireman in another county and I too haven’t had a raise in 5 years. In fact, last year Iost 8%. While the department continues to buy the most expensive fire trucks and build multi million dollar fire stations. That is just the tip of the iceberg

  25. Jack Howell says:

    Instead of increasing pay and benefits to Fire/EMS and Deputies, the county will piss away taxpayer money on the purchase of the old hospital. This is /will be a perfect example of fraud waste and abuse. And, there is a bonus! The contractors (cutting corners) will not get all the mold and asbestos out of the building thus causing sickness to those that will work in the “renovated” facility in the long term…..I predict.

  26. Dennis McDonald says:

    “Reality Check in isle 1 under the Green Dome please”

    Fire Chief Don Petito makes $78,000 and Economic Development CEO Helga Van Eckert makes $110,000. I am sure we have this reversed as we can quantify what Petito does !

  27. confidential says:

    Totally agree with Ffms…county has plenty of money buts waste it buying useless non working utilities and infrastructure that we can’t afford, while raising our taxes. Buying the most expensive fire trucks and over building millionaire fire stations is also taking our hard earned tax payers fund to secure graft for the rubber stampers.

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