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Two Ex-Firefighters Sue Flagler Beach, Charging Their Firing Was Retaliatory

| August 6, 2013

Still hot. (© FlaglerLive)

Still hot. (© FlaglerLive)

Two firefighters Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell fired in February for storing homemade alcohol in a fire department fridge overnight, were filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city Tuesday morning. They are seeking more than $15,000 in damages, among others.

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The lawsuit, filed in Flagler County Circuit Court, is not a surprise: both firefighters– Shane Wood and Jacob Bissonnette—have been contesting their firing since it took place, quickly hiring Flagler Beach attorney Dennis Bayer. But it adds to the city’s continuously mounting issues relating to the Flagler Beach Fire Department, which is currently without a chief, acting or otherwise, and has had to rely on volunteer firefighters to fill in for its decimated paid ranks. Since last summer, not many weeks have gone by without turmoil of one sort or another connected to the fire department, and by extension, to the city.

According to the complaint, Wood and Bissonnette charge that the city retaliated against them after they both cooperated with a Flagler County Probation Department’s request to provide information about another firefighter, Bobby Pace, alleged to have falsified the records of a probationer logging community service hours at the fire department. It was Pace who accused Bissonnette and Wood of storing alcohol on fire department premises. Pace also accused then-Fire Chief Martin Roberts of drinking alcohol at a department Christmas party, then answering a fire call and commanding that response while still under the influence of alcohol, a violation of city policy.

Campbell fired Wood, Bissonnette and Martin after hiring an attorney to conduct an investigation of the allegations. Campbell installed Pace—who was fined $500 and had his license revoked for drunk driving in 1994—the acting fire chief. In April, following a Flagler Beach police investigation, Pace himself was charged with falsifying records and obstructing justice in the probationer’s case. (The probationer was imprisoned subsequent to the falsified documents.) The State Attorney’s office formalized one of the two charges—obstruction, a first-degree misdemeanor—in late July.

Campbell had placed Wood, Bissonnette and Martin on administrative leave immediately after being told of the alleged policy violation against them. In Pace’s case, Campbell kept him on the job until the State Attorney formalized the charge against him, a difference in approach Campbell has not explained, but that helped propel the lawsuit against the city forward.

The lawsuit notes that it was as  a result of Wood’s and Bissonnette’s “investigations” that charges were filed against Pace—and that at the time Campbell was fully aware of the investigation, and its results, when he fired Wood and Bissonnette.

Wood had joined the fire department as a volunteer in 1991, and as a full-timer in 1997. He was second in command when he was fired. Bissonnette joined the department full time in December 2006. The lawsuit calls for the pair to be reinstated to their former positions, to reclaim their full fringe benefits and seniority, back pay and other lost remuneration, and “injunctive relief to prevent further retaliatory conduct upon employment.”

(Note: a previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Bissonnette had no blemishes on his record. In fact, he was suspended two days without pay in 2009 for making disparaging comments about fire-department related issues on a Flagler Beach community website. He was also verbally warned in January 2012 for turning in his time sheet late on several occasions.)

The lawsuit makes a further charge against the city: violation of confidentiality.

The lawsuit charges that as part of its retaliatory moves against Wood and Bissonette, the city “repeatedly” released confidential information to the press and members of the public about Wood and Bissonnette.

The lawsuit does not specify what information was released. In one such release late last month, when he announced the formal charge against Pace, City Manager Bruce Campbell distributed his memos and the original charging affidavit against Pace to city commissioners. The document included, in the charging affidavit, the home address and cell phone number of Bissonnette. That information is protected against public release by Florida law. The information, however, was very likely released inadvertently, not maliciously, and was subsequently redacted. But it had happened at least once before, when some information relating to Wood was also similarly released.

The lawsuit claims Wood and Bissonnette were “damaged” by the release of the information.

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45 Responses for “Two Ex-Firefighters Sue Flagler Beach, Charging Their Firing Was Retaliatory”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    This is an embarrassment. When will all of these clowns be fired?
    So they buy alcohol on duty, bring inside their place of work and consume it, then get fired.
    Now they are suing.

    Is the circus over yet?

    • Shannon Porter says:

      Did you even read the article before you wrote that? Your comment is totally irrelevant to the information.

    • Shannon Porter says:

      Everyone is so quick to dish out comments under anonymous ‘names’ … My only hope is that at some time.. judgement is passed so quickly (and incorrectly) on you. The court of public opinion is biased when you hide behind your computer as you attack and hurt these two men and their families. Don’t forget… they were the ones rushing to your house when someone you loved needed help.. or your neighbors house caught fire. Shame on you for so quickly turning on them because when push came to shove… they would still show up and try to save you, your possessions . everything. Even now. Even after this. Because that’s the kind of men they are.

  2. Chantel Turner says:

    Bring Shane Back! Bring Shane Back! Bring Shane Back! I HAVE SPENT NO MONEY AT FLAGLER BEACH SINCE SHANE WOOD WAS TERMINATED. I am thankful that there are some Volunteers! They help this wonderful world we live in, but we must have dedicated, experience and compensated employees in positions that protect the citizens of the area in which they serve to maximize the services of FBFD!

    • Truth Seeker says:

      Well said!! Also it’s refreshing to see someone actually take a stand (by not spending any monies in Flagler Beach) instead of just complaining! If more citizens were to do the same I doubt that the people in power would not act so “willie nillie” about firing excellent employees that happen to make a mistake!

  3. what a joke says:

    Nothing short of laughable! Just trying to drag others down due to their bad decision making. The best part to me is Mr. Bissonnettes “spotless” record, truth be told the only reason it was spotless is due to lack of leadership, not being disciplined properly through out his carrer, had that of taken place Mr. Bissonnette wouldnt have to worry about drinking “allegations” because hed of been gone long before this!! Do you show up on time in the limo?

  4. Anonymous says:

    And yet the saga continues……

  5. Florida Native says:

    Looks like the city of drama could soon be bankrupt if those folks get the right trail attorney. Wrongful termination can be very costly even if they settle out of court. A government entity doesn’t roll like the private sector. Parking meters and pier admission price increases right around the bend….or they could sell the golf course/white elephant.

  6. FB Outsider says:

    HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA!!! Give up. You broke the rules and got punished!

  7. Big Tuna says:

    Haha these 2 Bozos violated a ZERO TOLERANCE city policy. They bought alcohol on duty. Stored it at the fire station while on duty. Drank the alcohol in uniform at the station before they DROVE HOME! Yeah.. I want these 2 showing up at my house when I call 911. If the can’t make a smart decision what makes you think they will when they are involved in an emergency. The investigation was done by a third party not affiliated with anyone. Keep these clowns off the streets!

    • Curious says:

      Maybe better to have drunk firefighters showing up, than no firefighters showing up…lol….just kidding

    • John Smith says:

      Where have you been the last three weeks Tuna. Bruce Campbell violated ZERO TOLERANCE when he tried to bring Creal back. The only time the city uses zero tolerance is when it works for them just as in this situation. Just to let you all KNOW this will be brought during trial as he stressed the zero tolerance policy so this show his flip flop that he is good at for his benefit.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am curious as to the current status of the off-duty Sheriff’s Lieutenant that sold these two clowns the moonshine! Is he still employed by General Manfre? Or was he terminated as well for the manufacturing of alcohol without a permit (which just happens to be a FELONY)???

      Rest assured this was NOT the first incident involving the FBFD and drinking…….believe me! Parties at Chief’s house…… to station in personal cars…….drive city vehicles to fire scene….put out fire……drive city vehicles back to station…….walk back to Chief’s house and continue to party…….wake up in the morning and forget where personal cars were! Call PD to report stolen cars, have PD tell you they are in front of the fire station! Go back to station, listen to tape from night before……..use tape to write incident report for call. You can ask any number of former members of the FBFD as to the accuracy of this comment.

      • FlaglerLive says:

        Fact check: The sheriff’s office conducted an internal affairs investigation into Lt. Greg Weston’s conduct with the home-made alcohol. He was cleared of any policy violations, as well as, according to Sheriff’s Attorney Sid Nowell, any breaches of law. You can read the full internal affairs investigation here.

        • Anonymous says:

          Did he not sell alcohol on government property without a license or permit to sell alcohol? That alone is a violation! Sheriff Manfre is nothing more than Bruce Campbell with a badge!!!

  8. FB Insider says:

    For those of you who don’t know, go to City Hall and ask to see the personnel record for each. Also, make sure you ask for the Disciplinary File as well, as the city keeps them separate. Don’t forget to request copies from both the FD and City Hall.

    You’ll quickly see why those who are on here bashing the terminated employees are bitter; nearly all had their issues with discipline and breaking the rules too. Sounds like some are scared the truth might come out; that is if those records haven’t been destroyed too. Just saying.

  9. Kevin says:

    The circus continues, love the drama there


    NOW WILL YOU BRING IN THE COUNTY???????????????????

  11. Kevin says:

    The county may not be the answer, but a major house cleaning needs to happen. The city council needs to examine if the city manager and that “Acting Chief” Pace should retain employment.

  12. ThreeEighty says:

    All this is, is 2 disgruntled ex-employees who were in the wrong and want to try and bring as many people down with them. Buying moonshine in the station, drinking moonshine in the station in uniform, and going to a fire after drinking. AND a trial by jury…A monkey could win this case for the city. Also Pace isn’t the only one who made the claims about these two breaking the “zero tolerance” rule. Its a shame these two can stir up so much drama over them being fired for the right reasons and attack a department that is great and getting better as each day goes by. Just give it up and give me a Mcdouble with fries.

  13. Old news says:

    If they have a spotless record and are so great then they will have no problem getting a job with another agency right?

  14. FB Outsider says:

    Frank bringing in the county will do nothing to show these guys were fired for drinking at the station, not some convicts hours. Thanks for the suggestion but we covered that and moved on.

  15. Flagler Citizen says:

    Frank- The answer remains “NO”

  16. John Smith says:

    Well ok. You all want to call it a circus and you are right. Bruce Campbell is running a circus.
    These guys did do something wrong and are at least man enough unlike Pace to admit it. That is NOT where the problems are as they are that Bruce Campbell unfairly fired them just as unfair was the circus they called there appeal that was prejudice for the city. These guys deserved a 3 day suspension and probation not firing. But because of the power play by Pace and his group they could see the writing on the wall and went for it. How is that working for you now Pace. This lawsuit will bring out the truth of Bruce Campbells unfair practices in managing the city. You all need to remember these guys admitted to it from the start and were willing to take there 3 day suspension as per city code NOT this unfair treatment they received from the city. Bruce Campbells unfairness is going to come out as there is plenty of evidence against him and all you have to do is go through the archives of Flagler live to read them. So my question is to Bruce Campbell and that is how much is Bobby Pace going to be worth to the city in this lawsuit.

  17. Intheknow2 says:

    Yeah for Jake and Shane! Perhaps now that the case will get its day in a real courtroom instead of Campbells Clown Court, all the inequities, targeting and truth will finally come out. I don’t agree that firefighters or any other city employee should be drinking on the job, but the video surveillance, assuming Bobby Pace didn’t delete that too, shows they were OFF the clock. So all of you out there that have never TASTED something alcohol, fire away because I know it’s coming and frankly don’t care. Meanwhile maybe these two did exhibit poor judgment by being on city property, but getting fired for it? Really? Even admitted to criminal activity doesn’t get you fired if you’re in the manager’s pocket. Right Mr. Pace? You can just go home, have multiple drinks, work another job, and still collect your city paycheck plus benefits. In other words, deny the charges and get fired, or admit to the allegations and be protected by the idiot in charge. I hope everyone of you whiners out there sit in the courtroom for both cases, listen with an open mind to the witnesses who will certainly be called upon to testify and then see whose nose grows the longest. My money is on Campbell.

    (Oh yeah, nice try on spinning the city’s woes with that rescued cat story. Did the brave men and women left in the department also take someone’s blood pressure that day? Or maybe cut off a too tight ring? Who couldn’t see through that load of media manipulation!)

  18. Maurice says:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. The plot and underlying subplot are beginning to shine through. Get ready to pay up Flagler Beach!

  19. Matty B says:

    Time to bring in the county!!!! Don’t worry FB citizens the FD will still be there, just with a full staffing and ALS capabilities and more experienced crews.

  20. Right on FBFd says:

    Hahahah they are the biggest embarrassment to the society. Really your gonna sue the city because you two got fired for storing consuming and purchasing illegal alcohol at a fire department in uniform on city property where their is a zero tolerance for alcohol and you really think your gonna sue the city and win?Mr.Campbell had all the rights to fire them, and the only reason they had a flawless record was cause of poor management from the former chief. I am still rolling on the floor laughing on them thinking their gonna win all is have to say is hahaha good luck!!!!!!’n

  21. Com'on man! says:

    What a joke: If we are going on discipline record, Bobby Pace would not get hired by any legitimate fire department in this country, and maybe even outside of this country as well, with his criminal disciplinary record, not arrests, but convictions.

    It is apparent that his criminal ways have not escaped him as he had grown older either. He should be lucky he destroyed the tape and there was not the physical evidence to put his finger on the delete button. The bigger problem is the fact he is lying about all of this and denying it. To be a public servant, honesty is a must! To be respected honesty is a must. He lied and then lied more. This has all caught up to him now in the court of law.

    These two did not break the law and lost their job. It is apparent now for the disparate treatment for people who are disciplined with in the Flagler Beach Fire Department. If you’re in the “circle of Campbell” then you’re aligned to different standards.

  22. Oh yea?1 says:

    Unfair practices really? Would u like me to explain the “ZERO” tolerance of alcohol for city employees for you? Mr. Campbell had every right to fire them right then and there. And their was evidence on camera of them purchasing it at the station. Mr.Pace has no reason to be fired over a silly case jake ts trying to put against him he had his 3 days suspension and back to work leave him be already, sounds to me like its nothing but a big head hunt. But I’m sorry any firefighters purchasing consuming and storing ILLEGAL alcohol at the fire department should be fired no questions asked Campbell did the right thing!!!! I’m gonna be laughing when they lose this law suit lets just wait and see!!!

  23. John Smith says:

    Lets set another record straight. It was not illegal alcohol sold by sheriffs deputies to a firefighter on duty. It was homemade cocktail. Should the deputy have known better sure. Did he get in trouble nope! Jake admitted to ordering the home made cocktail, buying the homemade cocktail, and storing the homemade cocktail. Shanes only mistake was not ratting him out on Xmas eve. Bad judgement? Sure, fireable offense for a first time, the courts shall see. All this is to show the bias in treating different employees differently. They did nothing criminal, only a city ordinance broken. Mr. Pace is facing charges for things he admitted doing. Criminal charges. Should he have only been giving 3 days off, allowed to take chiefs car home to use on his 3 weekend days off? Just saying whats fair, evidently isn’t fair for all. It was not illegal alcohol, Shane did not order it or pay for it, Quit lumping everyone together to make it sound so much worse than it is! What is fair for some, should be fair for all. Should all the firefighters be fired for breaking city ordinances, we shall see. Criminal charges are not just breaking city ordinances for Mr. Campbell to determine who gets preferential treatment or not. These 2 firefighters, did NOT drink one sip of alcohol while on duty. They took one sip, after their shift was over. And went home. They did not respond to a call. One taste, after off duty, on Xmas morning.

  24. Robert Lewis says:

    This seems not to be the first incident with the same suspects. I remember a story last year about going on free trips paid for by a vehicle manufacture. It is a shame that the same suspects got in trouble after being given a slap on the wrist. To make matters worse, they are using the courts to get their jobs back after violating policy. This one group of misfit employees have destroyed a department and act like a cancer on others reputations. I did not know Mr. Lieutenant Greg Weston, but I am sorry to see he is dragged in on this.

    This entire scenario has been a public relations nightmare because there has been a lack of leadership in the Flagler Beach Fire Department. If Mr. Shane Wood was the Assistant Chief, why didn’t he act like one and stop this before it even happened? There is no sympathy for you Mr. Wood because you failed your community at being a leader.

    • FB Insider says:

      And they were cleared of no wrong doing. The practice is common in the industry and Campbell AND Shupe both knew of the trips. Shupe got sore and claimed to know nothing about it after the company he used to buy fire trucks in NY from came in almost $100k more. He sat in the FD with the members and assisted in spec’ing the trucks. Ever wonder why the state ethics commission never got involved? Because nothing was done wrong.

      Has anyone even read the document below? They never disputed they broke CITY CODE. The problem comes into play when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime and there is a DOUBLE STANDARD in the City under Campbell’s reign. Violate City Administrative Code, cooperate and get fired on first offense. Get criminal charges filed, REMAIN ON THE JOB WITH NO “INDEPENDENT THIRD PARTY INVESTIGATION” (that the city paid $18k for AND lumped in with other unrelated accusations) and get a PAID VACATION while they wait to arraign you?! Oh yes, who picked the law fjrm? The City Attorney. I’m sure they didn’t know eah other … HA.

      Let me ask you one more question: why is is EVERY prior investigation involving city employees were done by the police department (no extra cost to taxpayers) yet this one launched a special external investigation? Do you really feel it was “impartial” when the City is footing the $18k bill? How about the “star witnesses”? One was later fired from volunteering for LYING, another was so intoxicated he had to be CARRIED out of the Christmas party and another volunteer CHANGED HIS STORY from his deposition to he appeals hearing.

      Yea, everything seems totally legit to me!

  25. Fed Up! says:

    Does anyone at Fire Station or CITY HALL — including the invited Commissioners — remember RUM cake and BOURBON balls at the CITY’s Christmas parties two years running? Those were held during the work day. When did ZERO tolerance come into play? Oh wait! I remember, it was when Campbell needed an excuse to fire those not under his thumb.

  26. In God We Trust says:

    Jake and Shane need to put on their big boy pants and be responsible for their actions instead of wasting the city’s time and money.

    • Wow! says:

      Did you say rum cake and bourbon balls!?!? Lol just another joke and attempt to divert the spot light off of purchasing moon shine on duty and then consuming “off duty”‘ but still in your place of work… Add to that your place of work a fire station and yes, you deserve to be fired! Not a place for ignorance, unless that’s what you want showing up at your house in your time of need!

  27. jp says:

    alcohol and public service don’t mix…..NO ALCOHOL 8 hour prior to duty!

  28. For Justice says:

    I’m so tired of hearing good men being bashed while Pace gets praised. Take a little time and look at his record of DUI’s and open containers. Lost license for 180 days, refused alcohol counseling,plus had to pay a fine…….Then he gets promoted while others were conveniently dismissed for a city infraction !!! Campbell knew about what Pace did and he got a whopping three days off and continued to use the city vehicle. The law is finally catching up with Pace. Let me get this straight you want to bash Bissonnette and Wood but keep Pace on until forced by the charges to put him on leave??? We have a violation of City ordinance that leads to the firing of Wood and Bissonnette yet criminal charges on Pace does not have just cause for an 18,000 dollar investigation or termination?? Discriminate much Mr. Campbell?? Looks like you are obstructing justice as well! I think they should get rid of Campbell before the city goes broke…

  29. FB insider read this... says:

    There is a term called “just cause” or “proper cause.” This term is used when an investigation is done properly to withstand scrutiny in court. Then there are seven tests to this which include the following:

    1). Reasonable Rule or Work Order
    2). Notice
    3). Sufficient Investigation
    4). Fair Investigation
    5). Proof
    6). Equal Treatment
    7). Appropriate Discipline

    If you can answer all seven tests with a preponderance of the evidence then you have a solid case for the disciplinary action taken. I think from number 4 down to 7 (excluding 5) are going to be hard to prove with the preponderance of this evidence. The past disciplinary practices of this department have not been equal for equal offenses. The appropriate discipline has not been equal to all employees in this department. The investigation that was done is going to be called into question with the fact the investigating attorney disregarded the probationary employee in her claim there was an issue and was being investigated by the whistler blower. The attorney did a shoddy job at best during this investigation, relying on innuendo and hyperbole from uncredible sources (vested interests in protecting their own backs) and not relying on the physical facts to prove the case. 18k could have been spent better elsewhere, and only time will tell. If Campbell wants to save face, I would request a partial/full refund for poor performance and putting the city into this position. Campbell can take heat for this as well for not knowing the past disciplinary actions of the department to stay consistent; some of which he created by lack of disciplinary action when needed.

    I am not disputing the fact a violation of policy was committed, but was the proper punishment handed down? Probably not, and I say this because there is one case where an employee was charged with a crime while acting as a fire chief, and a three days suspension was given to him for destroying evidence.

    This involves moral turpitude and is much more severe than sipping alcohol. If you lied about destroying evidence, are you going to lie when a citizen brings a claim of a missing Rolex watch? How can this Chief be credible ever again? He lied and broke the law.

    The bottom line is this, someone needs to call that show on A&E and see if the City of Flagler Beach can get on there for an intervention. Just when you think you have hit rock bottom, your rock bottom is lower and lower than anyone has ever thought. A PR nightmare is a vast understatement.

    In all serious, the commission should fire Campbell or separate ties as quick as possible, get a crisis manager involved/hired, and figure out how to end all of this. Shupe, while is possibly an asset to the commission should separate himself from any decisions the board makes about the Fire Department in the future, he has a vested interest too. The bleeding has to stop. Revisit the county taking over, or privatizing the fire department to a business that can manage this crisis (there are business out there that do this), and give this a long hard look because you’re a fire department without a fire chief; the tail is wagging the dog. Someone made a very bad decision to try to bring back a disgraced fire chief and the sheep were led to slaughter by someone. Whoever is making the decisions should be making sound ones that do not draw this much negative attention like this. Here is some free advice, whatever decisions you’re about to make, write them down on paper, along with the total opposite from your initial decision. Implement the total opposite decision! What other fire departments have repetitive issues like this?

    When is it going to stop?

  30. Careerfirefighter says:

    Only in Flagler Beach and Flagler County can we make this up. What a joke, violate a city ZERO tolerance policy and then want your job back?? They both know the city will settle regardless of fault. For a person who was supposed to be a supervisor with 20 + years experience you allowed Jake to purchase and store the alcohol in the station, you should be fired come on, you failed to perform your job. Jake stop using family to file your charges, we all know your indirectly related to the police chief. The problem lies with the lack of proper supervision from the top down, with little hit man “Jake” working for the Fire chief, they both thought they were untouchable, well guess what you got what you deserve. So glad I’m no longer around that environment.

    • what a joke says:

      @ for justice: How long ago are these infractions youre bringing up about Paces back round? Tell you what, tell these 2 good men getting bashed to come back and apply in 20 years and the city will hire them back then, thats about how far we are going back, correct? No one said they were bad people, they just made bad decisions and with that comes consequences. Be men, admit guilt and go your own way (other than admitting guilt we have failed!). Is it funny to anyone else that the only thing they could possibly find on Paces FBFD back round, to do nothing more than mess with him, they are just as guilty of themselves!?!? Always wondered what a hypocrit was, couldnt find a BETTER example!!!!

  31. Oh yea?1 says:

    Hey Fbinsiderout their are many fire depts with a lot of issues look at Daytona, the county has had their issues I can name numerous depts. but the one thing is they don’t have a ex disgruntled employee who thinks they can sue the city for THEIR own mistakes on zero tolerance for alcohol and the same employee wants to blow the media up on the city and the dept. Non stop then wants to sue for reinstaement for his position back and financial damages? Has he lost his mind thinking he would get the job back after what he has caused? And their is no case against Pace, once again the same employee who is also related to the police chief Mr.Bissonette thinks he’s gonna take pace out cause Bissonette is related to the police chief and they have buddies sitting up in the states attorneys office that’s the only reason it got filed. Any real attorney would look at Mr.Paces case and laugh cause it will get dropped. For Bissonette law suit that’s another joke he won’t win it maybe just get paid out by the insurance companies to get him out of here!!!!

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