Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
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Brooksville fire captains dispute allegations

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Published:   |   Updated: June 26, 2014 at 06:21 PM

— Brooksville fire Captain William Kaplan, fired for failing to take appropriate steps after an off-duty captain took a fire truck out for a ride, said the incident could have been avoided with better communication and more update department policies.

Captain Sam Schey, who drove the fire truck April 6 and resigned later that month, said Thursday that both he and Kaplan have gotten “bad raps” and disputes an internal investigator’s report that paints him out to have been intoxicated and made “inappropriate contact” with a female firefighter.

Kaplan has filed a grievance with the city to get his job back with lost pay. Schey said he was forced to resign and now wants his job back and may seek legal counsel to do so.

The matter now rests in the hands of Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, who is reviewing the grievance.

The internal affairs investigation report shows that at about 9:30 p.m. April 6, Kaplan was notified by a firefighter that Schey — off-duty at the time — was at the Brooksville fire station and appeared to be “visibly impaired and intoxicated,” according to a memo from Fire Chief Timothy Mossgrove.

While smoking a cigarette outside, Kaplan saw one of the fire engines returning to the station with its emergency lights on. When the firefighter told Kaplan that Schey was operating the vehicle, he “disregarded any concern about the health, safety and welfare of city property or citizens and chose to return inside the station without reporting the incident to your superior,” the report said.

A subsequent Brooksville Fire Department Internal Affairs investigation upheld the charges against Kaplan, which included failure to take official actions of violations, inefficiency of performance of duties and unacceptable conduct.

Schey talked to Hernando Today on Thursday and gave his side of the story.

He denies he was drunk. He said he had been up all night working on a car, was off his medications for depression and was not at his best.

“When I’m off my medication, I get very emotional, edgy and (anxious),” Schey said.

Schey said he decided to take his autistic 21-year-old cousin to the station and show him around, introduce him to his co-workers and demonstrate the firefighting gear.

He said he asked a female firefighter to help his cousin with the gear and she was gracious enough to help.

Schey said afterward he hugged and thanked her and that was it. He said he has Tourette’s syndrome and she may have misconstrued what he was saying as being sexually suggestive.

Schey said he took his cousin for a ride in the ladder truck, a practice not uncommon at the department.

He said he returned the truck after a ride around the block, backed it into the bay and ran over a wooden box used to play the game corn-hole.

“I know better not to get behind my…vehicle while being intoxicated,” said Schey, despite witnesses alleging that he appeared “visibly impaired and intoxicated.”

Schey said he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is bipolar, which has contributed to his problems.

He said his psychiatrist has cleared him to return to duty and he is now trying to find a way to do so. Schey said he got a call from a union representative asking him to resign because he was about to be fired.

“I put 10 long years in my job. I busted my butt and I’d like to go back to work for the city of Brooksville,” he said.

Schey said he has not ruled out seeking legal counsel to fight to get that job back.

Meanwhile, Kaplan has attributed the problem to a lack of communications and told internal affairs investigators that fire department policies are “old and outdated and the communication between the three shifts is poor.”

Kaplan was hired as captain in August 2009, made $14.42 an hour. City records show he had received no prior disciplinary notices. He could not be reached for comment.

Schey started his career with Brooksville Fire in January 2004 as a reserve firefighter, rising through the ranks until he became captain in 2008. He made $15.18 an hour. A city document shows one disciplinary notice, filed in 2008, for repeated tardiness.

Schey turned in his resignation to the department on April 27, citing medical reasons. In his letter, Schey said he served the Brooksville Fire Department “with respect and pride.”

Hernando Today obtained Thursday a 96-page report containing witness statements and the findings of an internal investigation.

District Fire Chief Stan Mettinger told internal affairs investigators that earlier on the day of the incident, he saw some Facebook posts from Schey that concerned him about the captain’s well-being. Mettinger and another firefighter went searching for Schey and found him with relatives at the Brooksville Applebee’s restaurant.

Mettinger, in his official capacity as acting fire chief, said he told Schey not to go the fire station for any reason “until he got himself straightened out for his own good.”

He advised Schey that he needed to make sure he was taking his medications and that he “back away from drinking if he was still doing that.”

Mettinger said in the report there were two mugs of beer on the table in front of him.

Schey says the beers on the table were not his and that he was drinking Coke.

Mettinger said he informed Kaplan — who was on duty that night — and other staff at the station.

Mettinger said he later found out that Schey did go to the station after leaving the restaurant, took a fire truck from its bay and drove it with his cousin as passenger.

The report said that Kaplan later told Mettinger he had come outside and saw the fire truck leaving the station and was told by other employees that Schey was behind the wheel.

Kaplan said at some point he went back inside the station and Schey, when he returned, “stuck his head in his door and said he was showing relatives around” but that he (Kaplan) had no further interaction with him.

Mettinger stated that Kaplan told him he later heard there was an incident that occurred between Schey and the female firefighter while the captain was at the station. Kaplan told investigators he did not follow up on that issue.

Mettinger said there is no written policy concerning a firefighter coming to the station while off-duty and conducting a tour or taking a vehicle. He also said the truck taken by Schey was in service that night and ready to be used in case of an emergency.

The female firefighter told investigators that Schey “smelled heavily of alcohol and appeared intoxicated” when she saw him enter the station’s weight room. She stated that Schey hugged her and then made improper advances, including “sexual moaning sounds in her ear.” She felt uncomfortable and walked off, asking another firefighter to keep an eye on Schey in case he tried something else.

Investigators were unable to interview Schey because on the day of the interview, April 16, the captain had admitted himself into Springbrook Hospital, a mental health and substance abuse center in Brooksville.

When interviewed, Kaplan said he was outside smoking when he saw the ladder truck missing. He said he was informed by a firefighter that Schey was driving the vehicle but didn’t think much about it because this is a regular occurrence.

Kaplan said he saw the truck return to the station with its emergency lights activated and did not see who was driving it because he had gone back inside the station. He said he did not know Schey was off-duty at the time of the incident.

Kaplan said he reported the incident to District Chief Mike Dow the next morning but that, in hindsight, he should have told Dow earlier. Kaplan said he would not have handled the situation any differently “based on what he knows about the department and how things are handled.”

Kaplan also said he had no knowledge of any interaction between Schey and the female firefighter on the night of the incident and only heard about it third-hand from a firefighter the next day.

Neither city manager Norman-Vacha nor fire chief Mossgrove would comment on the incident.

Brooksville Mayor Kevin Hohn said he was unaware of the incident but intended to find out more.

“I would have expected something of this magnitude, certainly I should have been briefed and city council should have been briefed,” by the city manager, Hohn said.

City Council member Joe Bernadini said he too had not heard anything but was not surprised because it was made clear by Norman-Vacha in the past that personnel issues were “none of our business.”

“She doesn’t have to tell us anything,” Bernadini said.

Still, Bernadini said he was disappointed that the first he heard about it was from a Hernando Today reporter.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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