Flagler Beach fire chief, 3 others fired over drinking on job
Firefighters accused of operating fire equipment after drinking
Fire Chief Martin Roberts, assistant chief Shane Wood and firefighter Jacob Bissonnett and a Flagler Beach city employee were fired on Friday after an investigation into drinking while on duty during a Christmas party at a fire station in December.
Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell announced the terminations, along with discipline for others involved with alcohol at the fire station.
The investigation found that despite warnings not to allow his firefighters to respond to a fire after consuming alcohol, Roberts allowed volunteer Steve Wood to operate a tower truck after drinking five beers. The chief himself had drank a few glasses of wine when both were called into action, according to the investigation.
The three who had been on paid leave since January were terminated. Two volunteers were also separated from the fire department: Wood’s father Steven -- the Flagler Beach sanitation worker -- and Barbara Haspiel.
A sixth firefighter, Robert Pace, is accused of falsifying time sheets. Pace has been the interim fire chief during the investigation. Pace now faces the possibility of a suspension.
"I was not drinking on the job," Roberts said Monday.
Roberts denies being drunk when he and a volunteer fought flames at a house fire. Hours earlier, they were at a Christmas party at this Flagler Beach bar, where alcohol was being served. An investigative report alleges former chief Martin consumed both wine and moonshine, but Martin says the only alcohol he drank, came off a piece of fruit.
"I will say when I got there, there was a fruit plate, and I picked up a cherry in it and I did not know it had alcohol on the cherry," Roberts said. "And when I ate it, I knew immediately there was alcohol. This was at 6:30 at night."
In addition to the Christmas party incident, investigators also found that Bissonnette purchased moonshine from another firefighter in the station parking lot, and both he and Steve Wood reportedly took a sip while on duty.
In a letter to Roberts notifying him of termination, Campbell wrote their actions “signifies to me a lack of organization control and leadership within the Fire Department.” He also wrote that it’s “exceedingly disappointing and discouraging that you did not advise me of any of these issues and complaints until after the investigation into your own actions was begun.”
Roberts said as for allowing Wood to operate the fire truck after drinking five beers, he said Wood drank non-alcoholic beer. He claims Campbell has another motive.
"I think all of this is in retaliation for the fact that I had filed an age discrimination complaint against the city, but the whole thing stems from the city manager," Roberts said. "I never had a problem with him until he came into office."
Campbell was unavailable for comment Monday.
Dennis Bayer, a Flagler Beach attorney, said his clients, Bissonnette and Shane Wood, have “unblemished records” and plan to appeal their firings.
The investigation into the incident discovered there was internal strife within the department between those loyal to Roberts and those who weren’t.
"We have an appeals process we can go through," Roberts said. "If it doesn't work, we'll have several lawsuits about this."
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