Monday, Sep 01, 2014
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Hernando Beach fire chief rejects allegations

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Hernando Beach Fire Chief David Freda said allegations made by an anonymous person that he abused his gas card by buying and drinking alcohol with on-duty firefighters at the station are unfounded.

Freda, in a memorandum to the county’s risk manager, Cristi Charlow, said he stands ready to defend his record.

Freda also is a paid employee with the Brooksville Fire Department. He recently was promoted from firefighter to captain.

The county received an anonymous email from someone purporting to have “facts” on Freda’s actions and who provided photographs of alleged illegal alcohol consumption at the fire station.

The person also said Freda used $700 of department money to buy alcohol in Spring Hill, Daytona and Maryland.

Freda said the author of the email is acting out of vindictiveness and “has an axe to grind” ­— possibly a disgruntled former volunteer who left for disciplinary reasons.

Freda said the allegations in the email, “are criminally defamatory and will be turned over to law enforcement for investigation.”

Freda said consuming alcohol in on station property or by on-duty firefighters is improper and violates department policy.

The anonymous person also sent two photos of a man with a bottle of beer that allegedly were taken inside the day room at the fire station at 3451 Shoal Line Blvd. in Hernando Beach.

Charlow, the risk manager, stated in a memorandum that alcohol is prohibited on county property unless there is a special event approved by county commissioners.

The chief said he would launch an internal inquiry into the photographs that were included with the anonymous email.

The email maintains Freda bought beer for on-duty firefighters that was consumed by Freda and others. It happens frequently, the complaint said.

The anonymous complaint also asserts Freda makes firefighters buy him beer and cigarettes and pays them back by letting them fill their personal vehicles with fuel using his county-issued gas card.

“This chief is out of control and should have no business running a fire department,” the email states.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he knows Freda well and defends the chief. Dukes said he believes the complaint is from a vindictive person trying to make trouble for the chief and, based on a lack of evidence, the county will not conduct an investigation.

Dukes said Freda conducted his own investigation and since has fired one employee and suspended another based on the photos sent anonymously.

Meanwhile, the department gained its independence Wednesday and Freda now has more autonomy. Dukes said such independence removes a bureaucratic layer and allows Freda and his crew to have more decision-making power to ascertain what the department needs.

“They will control their own destiny, so to speak,” Dukes said.

The county’s contract with Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department calls for the latter to submit to Hernando County a budget and financial statements, which are audited.

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