Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Investigation of Hernando Beach fire department focuses on use of alcohol, expenditures

HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando County officials are investigating allegations that Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department Chief David Freda bought and consumed beer with firefighters on duty and spent fire account money to buy alcohol in Spring Hill, Daytona Beach and Maryland.

The anonymous complaint also alleged Freda made his firefighters buy him beer and cigarettes and paid them back by allowing them to use his county gas card to fill their personal vehicles.

The allegations come as the county prepares to grant the department its independence.

An anonymous tipster, using the name "residents for a county-controlled fire station for Hernando Beach," sent an email to county commissioners and the Times, and it included two pictures of an unidentified man with a bottle of beer, allegedly taken at the fire station.

"This chief is out of control and should have no business running a fire department," the tipster wrote.

County officials were in a quandary when they got the complaint on June 12 because the county is in the process of allowing the department to operate independently of county oversight. The county still owns the fire station, but the County Commission earlier this month approved a lease to the volunteer fire department, effective July 1.

After receiving the email, the county's risk manager, Cristi Charlow, sent Freda a copy and reminded him that "alcohol is prohibited on county property, unless it's a special event approved by the Board of County Commissioners." Charlow asked Freda to respond to the allegations.

Because he is charged with overseeing taxpayer money, Clerk of the Circuit Court Don Barbee also agreed to look into the possible misuse of county gas cards. It was a natural followup of an audit done by his office late last year of the county fleet's gas card usage. Freda's usage was questioned at the time because it exceeded that of the two county fire rescue chiefs and the assistant chief combined.

In an email dated Friday, Freda responded to the complaint, saying it was clearly vindictive and possibly the work of a disgruntled former volunteer who left for disciplinary reasons.

He did not respond directly to the question of whether he bought or consumed beer at the station, but did say that he knows that alcohol at the station is against department policy, and he notes that he has disciplined people for previous violations and would again in the future. Freda also said he would investigate the photos.

"Funds of the organization have been properly expended with the approval of the governing board of the HBVFD," he wrote.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said Monday that he has spoken briefly with Freda but was not at liberty to say what they discussed. He did say that he, Freda, County Administrator Len Sossamon and the county's new public safety director, Scott Hechler, will meet in the coming days to further discuss the allegations.

Investigation of Hernando Beach fire department focuses on use of alcohol, expenditures 06/23/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2014 7:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.