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Longboat Deputy Fire Chief quits amid turmoil, demands investigation

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

It was not all peace and joy over the Christmas holidays at the Longboat Key Fire Department when Deputy Chief Matt Altman resigned accusing his boss of “favoritism” and “intimidation” and a request for a formal investigation.

Altman announced his retirement/resignation in a Dec. 31, 2014 email to Town Manager Dave Bullock in which he said that he and many firefighters could not continue if conditions do not change.

“…I have taken pride in my job and have witnessed the outstanding service that the Firefighters continue to provide each day. Unfortunately, under the leadership of Chief Dezzi I feel that I can no longer serve directly under him. I would suggest you read the documents provided to Assistant Town Manager (Anne) Ross, and Human Resource Director (Lisa) Silvertooth for more details. I want to make something very clear: I, along with many firefighters, can no longer in good conscience continue to work in the current conditions that exist in the Fire Department,” wrote Altman.

The most recent problem that led to Altman deciding to resign came to a head while Fire Chief Paul Dezzi was on vacation during the Christmas holiday.

Dezzi designated Altman to be in charge of the department in his absence.

The hierarchy of the Fire Department places Dezzi as the leader in charge of not only the department in general, but immediately over three Deputy Chiefs: Deputy Chief Sandy Drake, Deputy Chief Matt Altman and Deputy Chief Rocky Parker. The three Deputy Chiefs are each in charge of running a shift composed of the town’s Firefighter/EMS employees. There are three shifts, and therefore, three Deputy Chiefs.

 

Three issues

According to Altman in a Dec. 28 memorandum sent to Assistant Town Manager Anne Ross, Altman said that while in the position of acting Fire Chief that on Dec. 27 he attempted to meet with Drake in reference to three separate items.

The first was a personnel matter that he said was going to lead to possible disciplinary action regarding one of her shift employees.

The second was a “counseling statement” that was to be issued to Drake. Altman added that this counseling statement had already been issued and signed by two other employees on other shifts in reference to expired medication on a fire truck.

Altman wrote that the third was a fact-finding session to determine if there was enough information to proceed with a formal hearing or disciplinary action regarding a violation of jet ski policy by Drake.

Then, according to Altman, things got worse.

 

The meeting

Altman says that he arrived at the station at 8 a.m. and asked Deputy Chief Rocky Parker to join the meeting with Deputy Chief Drake to make sure that Drake did not feel that anything was unfair. Altman said that he explained this to Drake and she responded that Parker would not be an objective observer and that Chief Dezzi would be.

Altman says that in his opinion, Drake then began a verbal assault on Parker, saying he was “stirring things up in the department and going behind her back.”

Altman said he then, without Parker present, began to ask Drake about a jet ski Standard Operating Procedure check that was made on Dec. 24, 2014. Altman asked if she had a personal floatation device on during the check, and according to Altman, Drake said she couldn’t believe his line of questioning and stated she was going to quit and proceeded to turn around and kick and shatter a glass picture that was on the floor of the office.

 

Fire Chief gets involved

According to Altman, later in the day Chief Dezzi contacted him to indicate that he had spoken to Drake by phone.

Following the above departmental drama, Dezzi returned on Dec. 30 and organized a meeting with Parker, Drake and Altman to try and address the issues Altman raised and the subsequent fallout.

Dezzi said that what went wrong was the process Altman followed in trying to address his concerns. Dezzi said that as soon as Drake said she was uncomfortable and felt her coworker, Parker, was not an objective third party, Altman should have ceased his questioning of the incident. Dezzi added that Drake was unaware this was occurring and that once Drake said she was uncomfortable, it was Altman’s duty to cease his line of questioning and create an environment conducive to address the issues.

Altman said that Drake and Dezzi did eventually agree to the issuance of a counseling form regarding the expired medication and the failure to wear the floatation device the previous week. Next, Altman said Dezzi questioned why he inconsistently required Parker to be in a room when he spoke with Drake but did not require a third party when he counseled two other employees that were involved in the same incident, one of the employees which was Parker.

“My philosophy is disciplinary actions must be consistent across the department; otherwise the investigation immediately is compromised,” said Dezzi.

“I made it clear I was not comfortable being with any female in a closed room during any type of potential counseling/disciplinary action,” wrote Altman on Dec. 30.

“Knowing that he is uncomfortable speaking with a woman, he should have stopped the conversation and questioning immediately when Parker exited the room,” said Dezzi.

Altman complained in the same Dec. 30 memo that he felt Drake’s actions on Dec. 27 were “violent, abusive and not becoming of an officer of the department.” Altman added that Parker was “upset” over the event.

Altman said there was no response from Dezzi on any further disciplinary action to be taken toward Drake.

“I was not there and was not at the scene,” said Dezzi. “I told him he was in charge and counseled him that he would have to pursue what actions he felt were justified.”

Dezzi said that Altman should have written a counseling statement on himself because he also initialed the form used to check out the fire truck with the expired medications.

“I believe that my asking Altman to hold himself to the same standard as the other employees caused an unfortunate reaction,” said Dezzi.

In the end, Altman wrote in his memo:  “…a hostile work environment exists for me at the Longboat Key Fire Rescue Department. Consider this letter a formal complaint to be filed with the Assistant Town Manager and Human Resources Director. I request that the proper investigation be started to mitigate the favoritism and retaliatory nature that currently exists. This includes an immediate suspension of Chief Dezzi and Drake until an outcome is reached,” wrote Altman.

 

Assistant Town Manager finds no one out of line

Altman’s demands were not realized because according to Ross, who was acting Town Manager while Town Manager Dave Bullock was on vacation over the same Christmas holiday, the actions of Dezzi and Drake were not deserving of suspension nor out of line.

Ross said she spoke with everyone involved, and that she felt that Dezzi did his best to resolve the issues at hand and did not show favoritism but was trying to restore order to the department. She credited Altman with many years of service, and said that the town was continuing to look into the matter.

Ross wrote to Bullock on Dec. 30 that, “Tensions are high around disciplinary actions taken by acting Chief Altman. Chief Dezzi stepped in from vacation and tried to resolve. Matt Altman was not happy with the resolution…”

Ross said that Dezzi was upset, and Ross added, “I am hoping to calm everyone down and get everyone moving forward.”

Dezzi said Jason Berzowski is now serving as Acting Deputy Chief until the position is filled.

Dezzi said Fire personnel work long hours in close quarters and it is not uncommon for interpersonal issues to arise. He said a big part of leadership, for himself as well as the deputy Chiefs in charge of the shifts, is to try and best resolve these conflicts and stay focused on the demands of the job. Dezzi said from the fire chief down to the newest firefighter, everyone needs to be held accountable.

Dezzi said Drake actually is the one who found the problem of the expired medication and asked to be held accountable, but it was the manner in which Altman dealt with the consequences that led to the turmoil.

 

Altman received negative letter from town’s Medical Director over procedures

Altman, who was in charge of the EMS department for Longboat Key, recently received a strongly worded memo earlier in December from the Town’s Medical Director, Dr. Steven R. Newman, M.D.

Newman is responsible and contracted to ensure all of the Town EMS protocols and policies are followed through a quality assurance process. Newman cited several concerns that he said needed to be addressed.

In the memo, Newman wrote:

“Dear Matt,

Longboat Key Fire Rescue Quality Improvement Committee meetings are not as effective as they could be.  I explored some reasons for that with the committee on December 3rd.  Since you could not be there, I wanted to share them with you.

LBKFR has the fewest calls of any of the three 911 responders in the system.  In my opinion, there is no reason that a case should come to QI review without an outcome.  It is basically impossible for the committee to judge the care of the patient without knowing the ultimate disposition of the case.  It is insufficient for the presenter to state “patient was discharged to rehab”, or “patient died in the hospital”.  What is important is the medical diagnosis and disposition, such as, “The patient went to PCI for an occluded RCA and was subsequently discharged to home.”  If the patient had a post mortem examination, the results of that need to be available.

Second, if an EKG or rhythm strip is important to the deliberation of the case, it should be available at the time of the meeting.  Certainly any STEMI case would fall into this category.

Third, old committee members should be reminded to use the case presentation template we agreed to use.  Newer members should be introduced to it.

Fourth, thought needs to go into which cases come before the committee.  It is counterproductive to review twenty-plus cases at a single sitting.  SCFD has at least ten times your call volume, and seldom do we have more than eight cases on the agenda each month.

…My hope is that these suggestions will be taken in the spirit they are offered, to improve medical care for residents of Longboat Key.  Thank you in advance for working on this with me.

Sincerely,

Steven R. Newman, M.D.”

 

Chief Dezzi wrote Altman a positive exit letter in which he wrote,

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to Deputy Chief Altman for his service to the citizens of Longboat Key as well as personnel of the fire department. During his tenure he has been on the forefront of emergency medical care provided by LBKFR for the residents of Longboat Key. He has seen EMS go from the use of thumpers to the administration of calcium as a first line drug to decompressing the chest to the administration of medication into the bone marrow. DC Altman has been a leader in the field of EMS and has demonstrated his skills daily. I wish to take this opportunity to wish DC Altman good luck in all his future endeavors. Twenty years is a long time and he is leaving healthy, something I wish for everyone! His footprints will last forever within our fire department.”

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Responses for “Longboat Deputy Fire Chief quits amid turmoil, demands investigation”

  1. Youwhining Babies says:

    Ahem (clears throat in disgust)

    First off,
    There’s a bigger issue here at hand. Most of you firefighters who “fear” retaliation need to be careful what you wish for. Go ahead and push for your vote of “no-confidence”….but when a new chief and deputy chief(s) step up who are modern day drill sergeants, make sure you bring your Kleenex to wipe your tears when you actually have to work for your paycheck. Most LBK Firefighter/Paramedics have worked for that town for so long, they’ve forgotten what the real world is like. Go work for a city where you’re working around the clock, and when you are not running a call or using the bathroom, you ARE working….flowing hydrants, painting hydrants, painting the handles of every single tool, doing full blown vehicle and apparatus inventory and inspections daily, climbing multi-story stairways multiple times a day, and actually EARNING your paycheck. Come work where I work for a DAY, then you’ll realize how good you guys have it. I hope you enjoy your full 8 hours of sleep every shift. Let’s see you run calls all throughout the night like we do and let’s see how well you do on 3 hours sleep. That would actually be a good thing, as NONE of your so called “problems” would arise….You’d be so focused on hard work, integrity and going home to your happy, healthy families that the thoughts of “voting out” your leaders wouldn’t even cross your minds. Verbal abuse, favoritism, retaliation? Is this an article about firefighters or did I come across the Girl Scout’s Facebook page? My daughter and her friends have less drama then you whining babies. Grow up. And again, be careful what you wish for…..

  2. Jeff Goss says:

    I think I will call Sarasota Co fire Dept. Ask who there Asst. Chief is. That will be Longboat Key fire new chief. That is how they got the last Chief. I hear Chief Halas is getting tired of working for the state. I hear he is moving back to East Manatee. Maybe he will come back, but that will not solve any problems. Maybe West Manatee should take over, Chief Sousa worked at LBK for over 25 Years.

  3. Seen this Coming says:

    Whether you knew Deputy Chief Sandi Drake from manatee county EMS, Southern Manatee, or LBK. You knew she was unfit for this position. When I found out she was an officer and then a Chief. I just laughed. Every time I ask about her to my friends at LBK. They just shake their heads, and say I know bro. Can’t do anything about it because she was hand picked by the Fire Chief. Well sorry to say LBK. You reap what you sow. You lost the most educated, experienced member of your dept. you have. And kept a “leader” who acts like a child apparently. Good choice. I’ll be trying my best to get the guys I care about over at LBKFR to come work with me. Before they get hurt by this management.

  4. Jeff Goss says:

    The fire department has had problems for 25 years.

  5. You're Not Here says:

    Very Funny. We are together. The Line guys and Lt.’s love each other. We have brought these complaints to our management, and they choose to do nothing. So this is the last straw for us. This Deputy Chief has lived above the law, writing people up all the time. And what happens when she gets hers?. She throws a fit like a child, breaks something and abandons her crew and post. So yeah. You’re not here. Quit talking like you know anything.

  6. Do your job and stop complaining! says:

    Do your job and stop complaining. You should not be in fear for your job if you do what is asked of you. This sounds to me like an administration issue way above your pay grades. For you guys to sit behind a computer monitor and bash your peers exposes flaws in your character and reveals how you carry through life as a coward. What happened to the Fire departments being so close? and the comradely? Get it together!

  7. Fear of Retaliation says:

    I work here and I am in fear of retaliation, so I can’t use my actual name. Why? Well because this Chief has been in meetings full of firefighters saying “yes I do have favorites, so what?. That is the only explanation for why some members get fired and suspended without pay. But his favorite DC Drake commits somewhere around 8-15 violations of the town PRR’s and gets nothing. Keeping her here opens the town up to future lawsuits. In fact a few of my colleagues are in the process of talking to attorneys now. It sucks coming to work because you can cut the tension with a knife. The people working here have started talking of a vote of no confidence for both the fire chief and deputy chief Drake. Our union leadership has tried to calm us down, assuring us that the town manager will handle it. I hope they’re right. For the first time in my career I do not enjoy coming to work. Please Mr. Bullock do something about it.

  8. Tired Firefighter says:

    One of our guys got fired last year because he yelled at the HR director about an insurance issue. The fire chief asked for his resignation immediately and rightfully so. Nobody in our job should act like that. However this deputy yells and curses at employees. Is insubordinate to her acting Fire Chief. Acts in a violent and threatening manner, verbally resigns 3 times. Leaves her post costing the taxpayers extra money to hire somebody for overtime, and breaks something that while he was cleaning up injured another firefighter. And this is her pathetic answer?. She needs the same treatment all firefighters would have received here. Nobody should act this way. Much less an officer in the department. This also brings into question her ability to manage employees. And command at high stress emergency scenes. The town manager and commission must step in. The Fire Chief is protecting her. Ask him what he would have done to any other firefighter had they acted this way….fired. She needs the same. Ask him why he’s protecting her. Pull his phone records and see the number of phone calls and texts to this Deputy Chief. Ask how many times they’ve gone out to lunch together, and how many he’s done it with anybody else. Something must be done or many more will be leaving. Dave Bullock save your department.

  9. Concerned For People says:

    Altman is right. This is not an isolated incident. I’ve spoken with the Firefighters and I encourage the town manager and town commission to do the same. They tell me this deputy chief has blown up on numerous occasions. And that they have lost faith in her and her ability to lead. They feel this is another Monica Simpson case of a hostile work environment. And that the Fire Chief is protecting her for personal reasons. A full investigation needs to be done before we lose more of our faithful servants at the firehouse. Protect our fellas.

  10. Nito Incog says:

    This article is woefully slanted against former deputy chief Altman. Since Chief Dezzi works for this paper as a contributor, perhaps he himself helped write it? Nevertheless, one huge aspect has been left out. As acting Chief, Matt Altman reached out to Chief Dezzi who was on extended vacation over the holiday and all he said was to “handle it before I get back.” Altman asked via email and phone numerous times for guidance. He received none. Pull the emails during that period from a public records request and you will see. Altman was only filling in as chief, the real chief didn’t want to deal with it because of an improper personal relationship he has with Sandi Drake. It was Chief Dezzi’s job to stop his vacation for a short while and help Altman with the situation. Deputy Chiefs don’t even get paid to step up into the Chiefs position, they do it to help the department maintain smooth operation and Dezzi simply abandoned Altman when he was needed most. Sounds like the former police chief John Kintz situation years ago, when during a problem was on vacation and told his subordinate to handle it. He ended up as a car salesman after that debacle. But Bruce St Denis was Town Manager then and he had the courage to immediately handle the situation and not bury his head in the sand.

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