Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo fire chief plans to retire April 1 as investigation continues

LARGO — Fire Chief Mike Wallace, the subject of an internal city investigation for weeks, announced Monday that he plans to retire April 1.

Wallace said he is a victim of frustration, lack of trust and poor morale among firefighters who endured layoffs and stagnant salaries in recent years. With pension cuts on the horizon, firefighters blamed him for failing to stand up for them during budget time, he said.

Wallace finally decided to leave.

"It was more important for me to allow the city and department to move forward without the distraction of political infighting," he said. "I would never have recovered from this no matter how it played out."

Largo City Manager Mac Craig said he could not discuss details of the investigation, which should be completed later this month. But he said that Wallace is not accused of doing anything illegal or immoral. City investigators, he said, have asked more than 50 people about two issues.

"It only dealt with telling us your thoughts about leadership and morale," Craig said.

Most of those interviewed, he said, had similar things to say.

"I hated to do this," Craig said. "As far as I'm concerned, he's a fine, upstanding gentleman and always will be."

Wallace, 57, took over the Largo department in October 2007. It was a kind of homecoming for him. Although he began his career in 1982 as an emergency medical technician with the Madeira Beach Fire Department, he moved to the Largo department in 1986. He served as a lieutenant, district chief and division chief over the next 18 years, until he went to Seminole as that city's assistant chief. Three years later, he returned to Largo.

Wallace followed a chief who had been the subject of two investigations. One concluded Jeff Bullock had used his position improperly to get a discount on a bed topper for his personal pickup. The other was sparked by claims from a firefighter that Bullock had mismanaged the department and mistreated employees. The city closed that investigation after finding no proof Bullock had violated Largo's discrimination and harassment policy.

Karry Bell, the acting chief after Bullock departed, also resigned while under investigation. He said he was the victim of a flood of complaints by firefighters.

Wallace's tenure did not prove peaceful. The county plunged into a debate over the way emergency medical services are provided and the cost of the service.

And Largo, like most local governments, faced hard financial times when the real estate market crashed. The city responded by taking away firefighters' raises, laying off firefighters and looking at pension reductions.

Wallace saw his job as supporting whatever Craig and the City Commission decided. Firefighters saw it differently, he said.

Firefighters saw it as "the city was taking and taking and taking and the fire chief didn't do anything about it," he said.

Complaints soon began about weak leadership and poor morale.

"This is a culmination of a growing frustration," he said.

Largo fire chief plans to retire April 1 as investigation continues 03/11/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 11:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium


    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  2. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday


    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  3. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  4. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  5. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]