Federal Mediator Reinstates Fla. Fire Captains

July 3, 2013
Three Monroe County captains have been reinstated after their chief had ordered them disciplined for failing to keep airport fire trucks maintained.

July 03--A federal mediator has reinstated to captain three Monroe County Fire Rescue firefighters who had been demoted to lieutenant. Two of them also had their suspensions reduced.

Last year, Chief Jim Callahan had ordered the discipline of Richard Cletta, Eric Sellers and Omar Fernandez, all of whom work at Key West International Airport because "these officers had basically not been doing their job for years. I'm very disappointed in the arbitrator's decision."

Specifically, they were accused on June 21 and 22, 2012, of not maintaining PPK, an extinguishing agent, in airport fire trucks.

"Not only wasn't it in the truck, it hadn't even been checked for years," Callahan said. "These guys endangered people because they didn't even know how to check the truck. The fact of the matter is, both trucks. It was the most egregious thing I've seen in my career."

Airport Battalion Chief Dale Beaver investigated and found probable cause they didn't follow department policy and failed to ensure subordinates were doing their jobs.

Following that, on July 17, 2012, Deputy Chief of Operations Gary Boswell held a predetermination hearing and agreed with Beaver on Aug. 13.

Cletta was suspended for nine shifts and demoted. Sellers was suspended for four shifts and demoted. Fernandez was demoted. Also, all three couldn't apply for promotion for two years. All appealed.

Tuesday, Anthony Redwood, an arbitrator assigned by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, reduced Cletta's suspension to four shifts and Sellers' to one. He also ordered all three to be reinstated as captains and that they receive back pay.

Lt. John Hamburger, president of the Keys Chapter, Local 3909, International Association of Fire Fighters, said: "They [the county Fire Department leadership] thought what they did was correct, but we thought it was too strong and too stern. That's why we went to a third party.

"We're happy with the outcome and happy that the guys got their positions back as captains."

Boswell said the cost to the county is preliminary, but for reinstatement after their demotions, Cletta will get $2,640, Fernandez $2,486 and Sellers $2,222. For their suspensions, Cletta will get $2,538 and Sellers $1,614.

"It was very serious," Callahan said. "They endangered citizens lives." He also said "the issue was these captains ... they had not gone through any captains test. To my no knowledge, there was no process, no application."

That's correct, said county Airports Director Peter Horton. Firefighting services were under the airport, not county Fire Rescue, until about three years ago, he said.

"It was a small department, firefighters and captains," he said. "We had two captains, that's all. We had only two people per shift. We hired a third. But basically, we had a shift commander and a firefighter. When we outgrew that, we went to the county.

"The county has testing for all of their positions, but the airport didn't at that point in time. That's one of the reasons we went to the county. We had a fire chief, and the chief would promote like any other county employee."

He added, "I'm very happy with the fire service and the strength of personnel and equipment we have now."

Copyright 2013 - Florida Keys Keynoter, (Marathon, Fla.)

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