PINELLAS PARK — A district fire chief was given a written reprimand and a 12-hour unpaid suspension after an investigation concluded he had made a sexually charged comment to a female firefighter.
Louis Sclafani, 51, conceded he made a comment concerning her posture to a female firefighter who was kneeling or crouching on the floor while examining her gear. A male firefighter was standing nearby and heard the comment. Sclafani denied he meant the comment in a sexual manner, but was referring to servants kneeling in the presence of royalty.
"It is my impression that Chief Sclafani made a comment that was not intended to be of sexual nature, but was misconstrued as sexual in nature. Further, I am of the opinion that most reasonable persons would interpret this comment as sexual in nature," concluded Deputy Chief Ray Hansen, who investigated the incident.
Hansen called it a lapse of judgment on Sclafani's part. He recommended Sclafani get a written reprimand and 48 hours' unpaid suspension because of the nature of the comment and the fact that he should be held to a higher standard as a command officer.
Sclafani, who has worked for the Pinellas Park Fire Department since October 1983, has an annual salary of about $91,361. Under Hansen's recommendation, he would have lost about $1,506 in wages. But Hansen's recommendation was overruled by Interim Fire Chief Guy Keirn. Sclafani received a 12-hour unpaid suspension, costing him about $376.
Keirn said he considered many factors in deciding Sclafani's ultimate punishment. Among those were two previous verbal reprimands, city records show. One was in 2005 for oversleeping and being 30 minutes late to work. The second was in 2008 for losing the pager the department had given him.
Keirn said he also considered Sclafani's job reviews, which were outstanding, and his longevity with the department.
Pinellas Park records say the April 29 incident happened this way:
Firefighters Thomas Layfield and Heather Elliot-Jones were in the bay of Fire Station 35 either preparing for or finishing an inspection of their gear. Elliot-Jones was on her knees and Layfield was standing nearby. Sclafani passed through the garage area.
"In the three seconds I passed them, I made a comment that went something like 'They still making you stay on your knees?' or something like that and continued past them. Honestly, I do not recall the exact verbiage," Scafani told Hansen.
Sclafani added, "What was I thinking at the time? Besides them simply adjusting their gear as part of an inspection, the only other thing their positions brought to my mind was royalty and their servants (servants kneeling in the presence of royalty). With Elliot-Jones still being on probation and Layfield being an established employee, this brought that analogy to my mind, thus the comment. ... At no time did I ever think about their standing and kneeling position in a sexual way."
Layfield and Elliot-Jones agreed, however, that Sclafani said, "Heather, just because you're on probation, you don't have to be on your knees the whole time."
Elliot-Jones did not report the incident. Another male firefighter complained when he heard about the comment.
Elliot-Jones told investigators: "While the comment caught me off guard, I was not offended by his words. I do not wish for this matter to go any further than it already has."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.