Manager Bullock on Fire

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When Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock returned from vacation this past week, the community of Longboat Key Firefighters was clearly in turmoil following the resignation of Deputy Chief Matt Altman.

Altman resigned Dec. 31 after he accused his direct supervisor, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, of favoritism in his handling of a situation that arose the week prior.

The situation centered around Altman’s attempt to write up and discipline fellow Deputy Fire Chief Sandy Drake over her failure to wear a life vest while operating a jet ski and over expired medication on the fire truck utilized during the shift she supervises.

The attempt to cite Drake for these issues devolved into Drake feeling cornered and leaving her post abruptly and Altman looking to Dezzi for guidance and ultimately a consequence for Drake.

Dezzi has said that he was gone on vacation during the incident, and it was Altman’s prerogative to pursue whatever action he felt necessary, but he did not want to embark on a ‘he said, she said’ dispute.

Since then, Altman resigned leaving Drake and Deputy Fire Chief Rocky Parker in their posts as Deputy Chiefs. Fire Recue Lt. Jason Berzowski was named acting Deputy Chief by Dezzi to temporarily fill Altman’s position.

Town Manager Dave Bullock spoke openly with Longboat Key News about the incident, the role of the department and what he sees as necessary in its service to the Longboat Key community. Here is what Bullock had to say:


Aside from personnel issues and some of the rifts the community has heard about, how do you measure the success of the Fire Department?

Bullock: There’s only one purpose for government and that is to provide the best level of protection we can for the community. Anything that takes away from that is a distraction.


What specific measurements tell you how the department is performing?

Bullock: Response times are important; they factor into lifesaving possibilities. The measured outcomes of the patients we encounter are also indicators. For instance, for every patient that we encounter with a fatal heart condition, it is measured how many leave the hospital. There are standards of measurement to weigh our survival rates vs. national averages. Another important measurement is patient comfort. You may not think that is significant, but when someone is in the position of severe pain, it is extremely important. Realize that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) account for 80-90 percent of our calls.


In your estimation, how are we doing compared to neighboring departments? 

Bullock: We’re doing pretty good as a department. One of the measurements is we ask the people we serve how well we did. How did we do relieving their pain? Was the treatment appropriate? Then we also engage in peer review which attempts to increase the quality of performance. That helps us look at what could have been done better with the objective of continuous improvement.

One indicator of how talented our employees are, is the fact that our medical director, Dr. Steven Newman, allows us to use medical procedures that are not allowed in other departments. On one level, our Fire Department is primarily an EMS Department.


What exactly are some of the deficiencies that Dr. Newman complained about in a recent memorandum to former Deputy Chief Matt Altman?

Bullock: It works like this, every paramedic operates under Newman’s license. Any of his concerns are very legitimate concerns and the medical director plays a key and integral role and we operate under his directorship and license. When he has an issue, there is no ‘this or that.’ That being said, the issues raised by Newman were not patient-care related and not about mistreating patients. He was concerned about the processes used to ensure high performance were not being followed correctly.  From a patient standpoint, we have a high level of performance and we will continue to improve. Fire Chief Paul Dezzi is an EMS guy by training and he will fix the assurance and quality control part that Newman was addressing.


In your view, what are the grievances and issues the firefighters and EMS have overall?

Bullock: I prefer not to manage the employees through the press, but that being said, Matt chose to resign and had a long and good career and now we must move forward. Even though I was a history major, I am a future-looking guy, and our job is to learn from these events and it will make our department stronger. My philosophy for government is based on my belief in continuous improvement.


What technology, apparatus or personnel would make the Longboat Fire Department even stronger?

Bullock: Since I have been here we have bought a new ladder truck as well as self-contained breathing apparatuses, a new Deputy Chief’s vehicle and new life packs. The department also bought a new boat in 2011, and we are constantly upgrading the equipment.


When there is unrest, such as recently occurred, in a department, what do you expect from leadership and Department heads?

Bullock: Whenever there is unrest, I look for leadership and a mature attitude among everyone. The first question I ask is has anyone lost their sense of mission? In this case I believe the mission is in order and the EMS have their sense of mission in order. Then I look for leadership qualities; is the leadership escalating or de-escalating the situation? I think Dezzi made efforts to de-escalate.


Have the most recent events hurt the department?

Bullock: Ironically, I think they will make us stronger. We are evaluating many things, but most importantly I have not found any evidence that there was any impact on service or on the public. Our sole purpose is to serve the public.  I also believe that no one involved, nor any firefighter has any other intention than to do that. The people they serve, they love.

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5 Responses for “Manager Bullock on Fire”

  1. Jeff Goss says:

    It may be time for the Fire Department to merge with Sarasota County or West Manatee fire dept. I can tell you, it sounds like nothing has changed in the last 25 years, except they have better equipment. I have known Sandi Drake when she was 13 years old. Yes she is a very hard worker, but that is not the problem. Hopefully things will get better, after talking with the Town Manager.

  2. Dave butler says:

    Requiring your employees to routinely train and check equipment on a daily basis is not being a dictator. I have visited the fire house a handful of times. What I have witnessed is Sandi Drake consistanlty cleaning and maintaining equipment while the fire fighters were sitting inside watching TV! It’s always the same scene. One person can not maintain an entire fire station. Clearly these fire fighters don’t want to be told to work. The facts need to be checked and blaming the one person who is doing their job is appalling. She had made positive changes to that station that no one seems to be acknowledging. Stop the witch hunt and find out the facts from credible sources not from the people who don’t want to have to get off the couch and be told to work.

  3. Jeff Goss says:

    Smarty, I guess I am a better former Firefighter, EMT and Fire Inspector than speller. What are you good at, smarty. Try writing more than 6 words next time. Try 7.

  4. Smarty says:

    Try proofreading the slop you write.

  5. Jeff Goss says:

    I think the Town Manager still has not takin his head out of the sand, about the issuses surrounding the low moral. The low moral is caused by a Deputy Chief who is a dictator and thinks she is the Fire Chief. The Fire Chief seems not to be able to control this Deputy Chief. The Firefighters need to issue a vote of no confidence.

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