Former Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Russell Benes was fired from the department after more than two decades on the job. After an investigation, the Clay County Fire Department decided to terminate Benes for his use of county equipment and on-duty firefighters to transport sand bags to his home during flooding. Benes spoke exclusively to Channel 4 Thursday night by telephone.
“I had received a call from my fiancé that we had some flooding at our home while I was on duty. We typically have sand at the Fleming Island station, but we did not have it that day, so I called down to Green Cove and asked them if they would fill some sandbags for me, which they did,” explained Benes.
In the report, the deputy fire chief states that Benes’ actions go “against the core of the mission statement of Clay County Fire Rescue. Many of the founded allegations fall under the BCC Personnel Policies Manual as insubordination, neglect of duty, moral turpitude and breach of the peace.”
“I was responding to an emergency, it just happened to be my house," Benes said. "If my house was on fire, would I be allowed to bring water to it if I was on duty?”
The investigation also says that Benes consistently used derogatory language, “creating an uncomfortable work environment.”
“On occasions when I would come back to the station, the one station where everybody was interviewed at, in a jokingly manner, just like the anonymous letter stated, in a jokingly manner, I did do that on a few occasions,” admitted Benes.
In a letter to the Battalion Chief, the county manager wrote, "you may not take refuge in the notion that a culture justifies your actions when you are responsible for the shaping of that culture."
Benes told Channel 4 the allegations that he asked fellow firefighters to see naked pictures of their wives or girlfriends is a lie.
"There were some people who were upset with me for turning someone in for filing improper time sheets,” said Benes. “Approximately two weeks after this happened. That's when this supposed anonymous letter came to the chief."
Benes told Channel 4 that he believes the entire incident is being blown out of proportion.
"I believe it's excessive," Benes said "There have been other individuals who have had sandbags brought to their house -- Clay County Fire-Rescue employees who have had sandbags brought to their house. We've had Clay County employees who have had trees fall on their house when they were on duty, who were allowed to go home with their whole unit to remove the tree from their house, and I can go on and on.”