Don Petito, Flagler County’s fire chief for the last 15 years, announced his retirement today, according to a county news release issued this afternoon. But employees have been aware of Petito’s departure since last week. Three people closely familiar with the issue said County Administrator Jerry Cameron gave Petito an ultimatum: retire, resign or be fired. Petito chose to retire. He leaves a department in disarray.
Joe King, the deputy chief, has been the acting chief since late June. That has not changed, though he is not expected to be named chief in place of Petito, as he does not command strong loyalty among the rank and file in a department where morale is low, fire houses are understaffed and controversies have been frequent.
The release provides no explanation for Petito’s retirement, nor does it quote him–usually a signal that the person “retiring” is not doing so entirely willingly–focusing instead on his accomplishments and two send-off quotes from Administrator Jerry Cameron (“We are certain Don Petito will continue to make a positive contribution to the community in his future endeavors”).
The quotes are not likely to fool people familiar with Cameron’s relations with Petito, whose tenure with the county had been tenuous for the past year and a half after he’d clashed with Cameron, with Jared Shupe, the county’s technology director, and with other employees. Petito’s temper triggered a legal action from one of his rank-and-file firefighters (who has since left the organization). Petito’s most serious clashes with Cameron and Shupe took place in the middle of the Hurricane Dorian emergency, raising questions about his judgment and temperament in critical times. Petito did not have a congenial working relationship with the Palm Coast Fire Department, leaving King to handle those relations.
Last October, when Petito and Shupe were both facing a “board of inquiry” over their clash, which had become quite public, Petito said he was looking to “get the hell out” and either retire or take a job elsewhere (he’d been looking). He had claimed Cameron had given him an ultimatum then, but Cameron denied it vehemently, and Petito ended up reversing course after considering leaving at the time.
More recently, the former firefighter, Fadi Fattouh, had filed the complaint (involving Petito’s temper and chain of command issues), leading Cameron to place Petito on administrative leave pending the resolution of an investigation from a labor attorney hired for the purpose.
“The complaint was an EEOC complaint,” a county spokesperson said this afternoon in response to a request for the inquiries. “It was not specific to Don Petito. There is no written report as it became a moot issue. It was handled by an independent attorney. There was nothing in the investigation that would have led to Chief Petito’s removal.”
People who spoke with Petito and Cameron subsequently said Cameron was concerned about keeping Petito on and gave him the choice to retire or be fired–though the investigation found no actionable issue against Petito, at least not according to what Petito has been telling former colleagues. Petito did not respond to several texts and calls placed over the last few days.
The county news release cites Petito’s involvement in training “a world champion EMS Competition Team” that “took titles in the Czech Republic, as well as being three-time Florida State Champion, and championship titles in Georgia, Iowa, and New York,” his securing of several grants and the development of special teams, including the Marine Rescue Program for flood, marine, and ocean rescue and Urban Search and Rescue. The release lists several developments on his watch, such as the county’s transition to a new radio system (twice, in 2003 and this year), opening Station 16, consolidating the Bunnell Fire Department with the county, and developing the Fire Academy at Flagler Palm Coast High School, one of the district’s more popular flagship programs.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
I am truly heart broken really and would love to be able to turn back the clock. I recently took my third trip in a year and half to Flagler County EMS to Advent Palm Coast via Don Petito’s hand picked , compassionate, professional , wonderful, and sadly overlooked county employees. This third time they saved my life. They knew just what to do to keep me breathing… They had me admitted in ER in less than a minute after they arrived.
I marvel at how well the ‘Chief’ dealt with the budget issues over the years, always shafting his department it seemed. Over the years I have attended many budget summer workshops and I have always seen Don Petito lobbying for ‘his guys’ .
He was so passionate about his responsibilities he came close to a fist fight with Jared Shupe who altered the communication program with our neighboring cities without permission nor knowledge of Don Petito. I believe that was the beginning of the end As a temper tantrum person myself I do not blame the Chief one bit for being infuriated at anyone daring to interfere with his right as Chief to manage communications.
A big hug Chief – you and your marvelous staff are the reason I am here today
CB from PC says
Having worked in IT in Public Safety, I will say that EMS, Fire and Sheriff Dept. Heads are under tremendous pressure to make the right decisions under stressful and potentially catastrophic emergency situations.
In addition, they are responsible that those under their command carry out the plan.
So…the IT Director was wrong in not giving Petito the requested emergency channels in anticipation of Dorian.
To deny was not Shupe’s call.
And yes, I used to routinely deal with a few Public Safety personnel at 4 a.m. calling to request their password be reset after locking their account when screwing up their login to the Windows based CAD911 system. Seems it just was not hi-tech enough to use an old fashioned radio until 8 a.m.
I could see where Petito could lose his cool with some of these people.
Finally, Cameron is not Public Safety Director, he is County Administrator. He needs to check with HR as EEOC complaints are a dime a dozen in Corporate. Very few will stand up in court.
My 2 cents: The Flagler County Adminiistrator should be required to live in Flagler County.
CB , the county administrator is required to live in Flagler county.
CB from PC says
The current County Administrator is “Acting” since Feb. 2019. Amazing how rules bend as needed.
C’mon man says
Don was a good guy. I’ve known him many years and he had always been respectful to people
Good luck Don
“Joe King, the deputy chief, has been the acting chief since late June. That has not changed, though he is not expected to be named chief in place of Petito, as he does not command strong loyalty among the rank and file in a department where morale is low, fire houses are understaffed and controversies have been frequent.”
The new guy is perfect for the job, he inherited the department if it’s that bad and in disarray. Strong loyalty ? There’s going to be a fight for the vacancy created with this ultimatum of fire/resign/retire. Nature of the beast and they bring in an outsider nd they’re going to want their team, so what will that attrition of labor result in for FCFD ? The revenue shortfalls & budget cuts are what they are for 2020.
It seems like the county and city are both drastically under managed and poorly run. The county pisses away millions, and the city can’t deal with the corruption within its leadership. Why the heck did we move to Palm Coast. We are now looking elsewhere for our future. Palm coast can’t run what it is now snd wants to be another Orlando.
E. Hoffa says
Yes, the CORRUPTION here is Greater than NY and NJ combined! The Southern Old Boy Network is ALIVE and Growing Here!
Bing’s Landing is just the TIP of the Iceberg!
Long timer says
It’s bigger than ny and nj because they transplant themselves here and want to make it like it was up there.
Nothing to see here typical business under the Cameron regime running off dedicated, long time employees. Why are we shocked?
It seems like the county fire department has accomplished a lot while lacking resources. Since the county seems unable to properly run anything, perhaps we should create a special taxing district to provide fire services. Many counties in south Florida are set up this way.
That is a great idea. A taxing district compromising Bunnell and the rest of unincorporated Flagler County so they can fund and make the fire department what they envision.
Not pc says
And then palm coast can get its stuff inline and get a medical director of their own so they can do als.
Charlie F Ericksen says
Before you vote for a ” special Taxing” District , think about what you said.. My son who is in the Orlando area, just had one formed in his area + $80/ year increase in taxes,,They are not free,,,
The land of the drama queens strikes again. Is there no cooperation or working together of any sort in this whole County. Every day is a new different or same continuous Soap Opera and it doesnt look like much gets done to me.
The County loses another GREAT man in Chief Petito because of these egomaniacal power hungry idiots!! Good luck Chief!!!! our loss is another Fire Department’s gain!!! this County and city r going down the TUBES QUICKLY!!!
Mike p. says
Withholding uniform, proper gear, and resources is a poor way to run a department. I’m sure more issues are going to surface; this department has experienced many sexual and racial complaints that went ignored, or the victims were paid off with taxpayers’ money. This is unacceptable, and it’s time for our fire department to have a leader. That leader can’t possibly be joe king; joe king doesn’t even meet the minimum requirement for his current position, the fact that he is also in there blows my mind.
The Beacon says
The job description was changed and considerably lowered to allow for the initial hiring of Joe King. FlaglerLive research the records, this is a true statement. This guy wants to create a minion with his buddy Shaw that came from Ormond…we don’t need this type of leadership. Run them both off. The rank and file do not trust this guy. The county fire department needs a fresh face from the outside or be absorbed by Palm Coast.
Roy Longo says
Petito did not withhold anything he couldn’t get the money for the equipment. There was only one harassment complaint that had merit and I agree, it was mishandled.
Mike p. says
Withholding polos while it’s mandatory in the uniform policy, seems actinide. However, I’m sure their raises were still getting trough.
Having fire gear with holes in them is ok? There is a reason why only EMT’s were applying for the fire-rescue position. The quality is going down. The best thing that could have to Flagler is the palm coast fire department.
The Petitos are the biggest joke in the countyHeidi would not have her position if it was not For her husband hopefully the whole entire group moves on and counting employees can have a normal job without fear of favoritism and nepotism Or just a good old boy system which we know Flagler county is very fond of let’s get rid of the infections in the county and start new how about do testing drug tests across the board should get everybody fired
Again just saying
Scott Peck says
Didn’t you work for the county and left. Why such ill feelings. Move on with your life and try to find some enjoyment. The Petito’s are nothing but a class act with many years in public service. Don’t try to discredit all of the accomplishments and great things that have been done for the betterment of the community. I pray that maybe you will find happiness.
Jimmy Shaw says
Having had the displeasure of working with Joe King at 2 separate Fire departments I echo the statements of Mike.P. The lack of accountability and leadership he has shown should be classified as gross negligence. Instead of leading his department he is trying to get in bed with the city of palm coast and ride their coattails. The county has not built a fire station in more than 20 years, the apparatus are on the brink of being extinct, and in the last 12 months the county has lost more than a half dozen employees with tenure ranging from 2 years to over 10. Gross mismanagement along with the weekly golf outings have led the county fire department to crumble. I for one would love to see Joe out and a fresh start, which still may not be enough.
Concerned Citizen says
Has anyone even thought as to why an IT Durector has so much unchecked pull?
An IT director that has the power to deny public safety communications. An IT director that is super chummy with a shady at best County Administrator. One who has a questionable past in St. Johns. And has to work down here on a permanently “temporary” wink wink nudge nudge basis. An IT director that has access to all emails and other documents going thru for BOCC and other agencies busniess. And can use these to get employees fired?
It seems to me Shupe is using his position to make a power play. And no one is bothering to stop it. It makes me wonder if he’s being considered for Jerry Cameron’s “temporary” wink wink nudge nudge position. Nothing would surprise me anymore in this corrupt county.
Why was Shupe’s board of inquiry let go. He was just as responsible for his behavior as Petito was.
It would be interesting to see some investigative journalism on Jarod Shupe. He’s definatley one our more unsavory higher county director’s.
Employee No More says
There’s no loyalty coming from the County. Cameron has brought morale to an all time low, promoting and hiring inefficient/inexperienced staff, even ones who lie on their applications of their qualifications. Cameron is the center of numerous staff controversies, engaging in gossip to fuel fires. There are numerous long term employees that flew the coop over the last year. Ask any of those 10+ year higher level employees that have left and they’ll tell you about Cameron’s shenanigans. Ask a current employee how often they come to work walking on eggshells afraid to go to HR for fear of retaliation. Cameron prides himself of being a leader but he is the furthest thing from knowing anything about true leadership.