Volunteer fire chief quits over Net photo
"I should be able to have a personal life after hours," says Seffner-Mango fire station's Bradley Price, denying any wrongdoing.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published April 29, 2005

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TAMPA - Accused of posting his picture on an adult Internet dating site while clad in nothing but his uniform shirt, the chief of the Seffner-Mango volunteer fire station has submitted his resignation after three decades as a volunteer.

County officials, meanwhile, say they are continuing their investigation into Bradley Price. They warn that any findings of wrongdoing could be grounds for legal action by the County Attorney's Office.

"We don't want that element in the county," Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley said Thursday. "And if that means following through to prevent him from coming back, we'll do that."

Price, 48, said he submitted his resignation letter late last week - even though he denies there was anything wrong with his decision to post pictures of himself on adultfriendfinder.com.

He said the only photo accessible to the general public is one of him fully clothed, wearing a uniform shirt.

"The other photos, only members can see," said Price, a long-distance truck driver.

He said the members-only photos show only close-ups of his anatomy.

"There is no face, there is no clothing, there is no nothing," he said. "I should be able to have a personal life after hours."

Price also is stepping down as president of the county's volunteer association, the umbrella organization over Hillsborough's six volunteer stations and 200 volunteer firefighters, Yeakley said.

The allegations against Price surfaced in recent weeks, said fire Chief William Nesmith. Besides the Internet photos, Price is accused of sexually harassing and dating a subordinate from the Seffner-Mango station.

A predisciplinary hearing is scheduled Tuesday night before the Seffner-Mango Volunteer Association board of directors, which includes fire station volunteers and citizens living in the surrounding community.

"We want to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story and let the chips fall where they may," Nesmith said.

"I'm extremely disappointed any time I hear the uniform is used to exert power for anything other than what it was intended for," Nesmith said. "Anyone in a uniform is held to a higher standard than the average person, and to not live up to that is an embarrassment."

The investigation is the latest embarrassment for the Hillsborough Fire Department, and it comes as Tampa Fire Rescue tries to move beyond its own sex scandal from earlier this year.

Former county fire marshal Donald Goff recently began serving a 37-month sentence at a federal prison in Texas. He resigned abruptly in June then pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing child porn and transferring obscene materials to a minor.

According to a department memo, Goff had pornographic Web links on his computer at work, visited personal ad sites during work hours and drove his department vehicle to an apartment complex he thought was home to a 14-year-old girl with whom he wanted to have sex.

Nesmith hired former Clearwater fire marshal Randy Hinder to replace Goff, but last month he fired Hinder, who had been accused of sexually harassing two fire department employees. Nesmith said he fired Hinder because he deepened rifts within the office.

Earlier this year, Tampa Fire Rescue administrators fired a longtime captain and suspended four other firefighters after they discovered the men were involved in an Oct. 17 photo session that had two strippers posing at Station 21 in New Tampa.

Price, whose father helped establish the Seffner-Mango station, said he is being unfairly targeted for what he does in his personal life.

"They have concocted it in their minds because I'm the one volunteer in the system who stands up against them on behalf of other volunteers," he said. "I have done absolutely nothing illegal, immoral. I broke no rules."

He said the woman who complained of sexual harassment was angry because they had a falling out after dating briefly. Price said she is angry because he signed on as the lien holder for her car, then had it repossessed when she didn't make payments on it.

"She filed the harassment charge a day or two after I repossessed the car," he said.

Even though the Seffner-Mango station is staffed by volunteers, those working during the day get what is called "maintenance pay," typically $7 to $8 an hour, Yeakley said.

As chief, Price got $400 a week.

The county also gives volunteers "longevity" pay based on years of service. Price has been a volunteer for 31 years, so his account could be "substantial," Yeakley said. But if the county determines the allegations against Price are true, it's possible he will be denied that money.

"Most assuredly, that is being looked at," Nesmith said.

Fire officials weren't sure Thursday whether Price's pictures remain on the adult dating site.

"I wouldn't know," Nesmith said. "I'm not going to go to that site, even on my home computer."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 29, 2005, 00:33:10]