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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Ft. Lauderdale Firefighters Disciplined for inappropriate behavior

    Lauderdale firefighters disciplined for X-rated behavior

    By Shannon O'Boye
    Staff Writer
    Posted April 18 2005

    Lewd games, nude photos and X-rated candy -- sounds like a motel room during Spring Break.

    But Fort Lauderdale officials say it was part of the environment at a firehouse.


    The city's Office of Professional Standards used a new process to deal with the inappropriate behavior quickly and cheaply, and avoid the fire-rescue union's grievance procedure.

    Officials hope to expand the program to all city departments. But some firefighters think the new discipline procedure gives the city an unfair advantage over its employees.

    In December, Robert Bates, the OPS director, and Assistant Fire Chief Stephen McInerny confronted two firefighters and three supervisors from station 35 at 1841 E. Commercial Blvd. with a list of alleged wrongdoing. They were told they had two choices: Accept suspensions and settle the cases, or reject the offers, be penalized more severely and let an arbitrator uphold or shoot down the discipline several months down the road, city officials and the firefighters' attorneys said.Under the union's grievance procedures, it could have cost the city and the firefighters thousands of dollars to hire attorneys and wrestle before an arbitrator.

    All of the firefighters chose to take the settlement deals. They signed papers this year accepting responsibility for their actions, agreeing they were not coerced into settling and giving up any right to appeal.

    Battalion Chief John Molenda, Lt. Gregory Best and Lt. Timothy Habig were suspended without pay for one 24-hour shift each for deficiencies in supervising their employees.

    The two firefighters, Martha Massarelli, 32, and Ben Johnson, 26, were suspended for 30 shifts, which equates to approximately 3.5 months or $18,000 in pay. Massarelli and Johnson also signed "last chance" agreements, meaning they can be fired without recourse if they get into trouble again.

    City spokesman David Hébert said the case was meant to send a message to all city employees that "there is a new administration in this city."

    "We set a tone and standard and expect every city employee to understand there's going be accountability and there are going to be consequences for acts that are immoral," Hébert said.

    In a letter to the firefighters' lawyer Bates listed some of Massarelli's and Johnson's inappropriate behavior.

    Bates said they passed out penis-shaped candy at the station, made a game of poking colleagues in the behind, drove a city ambulance to Pompano Beach to visit a family member while on duty, visited an adult novelty store during work and played music in an ambulance while treating a patient.

    Once Massarelli came under investigation, she informed the city that two people accusing her of wrongdoing had sent her inappropriate e-mails using their city e-mail accounts. The e-mails were sent by Lt. Sandra Damasio in 2003 and Driver/Engineer Juana Carreras in 2002, according to city records. Sources familiar with the investigation said Damasio sent Massarelli a photo of a naked woman draped around the legs of a naked man and photos of semi-nude male models posing as chefs, and Carreras sent a picture of the naked backside of a fisherman.

    City officials declined to give the e-mails to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel despite repeated public records requests.

    Bates said he looked into the e-mails but did not think it was fair to "vilify" Damasio and Carreras after they were honest about the antics at the firehouse.

    According to Carreras' and Damasio's personnel files, they also entered into early settlement agreements. City Manager George Gretsas allowed McInerny to give the women written counseling slips, warning them against sending inappropriate e-mails in the future.

    But Eric Gabrielle, a Fort Lauderdale labor and employment lawyer, said employers have an obligation to "investigate comparable discipline violations similarly" and to "approach employees' complaints the same way" regardless of how the complaints land on their desks.

    The union president said he wasn't happy with the harsh suspensions for Massarelli and Johnson, which he said were unusually severe, and some firefighters have concerns about the city's new early settlement program.

    "The union believes the early settlement process is beneficial to members in certain circumstances, mostly in minor cases when the member decides he or she wants to participate in the process," union Pesident Mike Salzano said.

    But in "very intricate cases with lots of members involved," Salzano said, the union would rather stick with the process for discipline and arbitration that is laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

    Two lawyers who represented some of the firefighters said the early settlement program gives management an unfair advantage.

    Even though the written agreement said the firefighters accepted the punishment "willingly," that phrase "is a term of art," said Mark Berkowitz, who represented Massarelli and Johnson during part of the process.

    "When I was involved, the threat was termination," he said. "I saw a lot of threats. I'd take that term with a grain of salt."

    Staff Writer Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.

    Shannon O'Boye can be reached at soboye@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4597.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default

    Firehouse faces discipline

    By Shannon O'Boye | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
    Posted April 18, 2005


    FORT LAUDERDALE -- Lewd games, nude photos and X-rated candy -- sounds like a motel room during spring break.

    Fort Lauderdale officials say it was part of the environment at a firehouse.

    The city's Office of Professional Standards used a new process to deal with the inappropriate behavior quickly and cheaply, and avoid the fire-rescue union's grievance procedure.

    Officials hope to expand the program to all city departments, but some firefighters think the new discipline procedure gives the city an unfair advantage over its employees.

    In December, Robert Bates, the OPS director, and Assistant Fire Chief Stephen McInerny confronted two firefighters and three supervisors from Station 35 at 1841 E. Commercial Blvd. with a list of alleged wrongdoing. They were told they had two choices: accept suspensions and settle the cases, or reject the offers, be penalized more severely and let an arbitrator uphold or shoot down the discipline several months down the road, city officials and the firefighters' attorneys said.

    Under the union's grievance procedures, it could have cost the city and the firefighters thousands of dollars to hire attorneys and wrestle before an arbitrator.

    All of the firefighters chose to take the settlement deals. They signed papers accepting responsibility for their actions, agreeing they were not coerced into settling and giving up any right to appeal.

    Battalion Chief John Molenda, Lt. Gregory Best and Lt. Timothy Habig were suspended without pay for one 24-hour shift each for deficiencies in supervising their employees.

    The two firefighters, Martha Massarelli, 32, and Ben Johnson, 26, were suspended for 30 shifts, which equates to about 3.5 months or $18,000 in pay. Massarelli and Johnson also signed "last-chance" agreements, meaning they can be fired without recourse if they get into trouble again.

    In a letter to the firefighters' lawyer, Bates listed some of Massarelli's and Johnson's inappropriate behavior.

    Bates said they passed out penis-shaped candy at the station, made a game of poking colleagues in the behind, drove a city ambulance to Pompano Beach to visit a family member while on duty, visited an adult novelty store during work and played music in an ambulance while treating a patient.

    The union president said he wasn't happy with the suspensions for Massarelli and Johnson, which he said were unusually severe, and some firefighters have concerns about the city's new early-settlement program.

    "The union believes the early-settlement process is beneficial to members in certain circumstances, mostly in minor cases when the member decides he or she wants to participate in the process," union President Mike Salzano said.

    But in "very intricate cases with lots of members involved," Salzano said, the union would rather stick with the process for discipline and arbitration that is laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.

    Two lawyers who represented some of the firefighters said the early-settlement program gives management an unfair advantage.

    Even though the written agreement said the firefighters accepted the punishment "willingly," that phrase "is a term of art," said Mark Berkowitz, who represented Massarelli and Johnson during part of the process.

    "When I was involved, the threat was termination," he said. "I saw a lot of threats. I'd take that term with a grain of salt."

    Shannon O'Boye is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


    Copyright © 2005, Orlando Sentinel | Get home delivery - up to 50% off
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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