BROOKSVILLE — No one knows for sure what prompted Brooksville Fire Department Capt. Sam Schey to climb aboard a city fire truck and cruise through the darkened streets of Brooksville on the night of April 6 — emergency lights and siren on and an unauthorized passenger by his side.
Schey's journey in the $250,000 ladder truck lasted only a few minutes, but the veteran firefighter, who spent 10 years with the department, wasn't in pursuit of a fire. In fact, he wasn't even on duty that Sunday night.
To several department staffers interviewed by Brooksville Police Department internal affairs investigators, Schey appeared impaired or drunk when he arrived at the station. Witnesses claimed that while inside the station, he made an inappropriate advance toward a female firefighter. Accompanying him on the ride was a teenage cousin, who also went inside the station to meet fellow firefighters.
Those incidents led to Schey's resignation from the department and to the termination of veteran Capt. Bill Kaplan, 50, who has since filed a grievance against the city seeking reinstatement to the job he held for nearly five years, along with back wages and other benefits. Kaplan, who was cited for unacceptable conduct as a supervisor and inefficiency of performance of duties, believes he was made to shoulder the bulk of the blame for his role in the events that night.
"They simply got it wrong in my opinion," Kaplan told the Times. "I'm not 100 percent blameless. But there are other people who messed up as well but didn't suffer any of the consequences that I did. I don't see any fairness in that."
In a summary report completed a few days after the incident, internal affairs investigators concluded that Schey, 37, was visited earlier that day at his home by two other firefighters who had been asked to check on his well-being after he posted Facebook messages the firefighters believed indicated he intended to harm himself. A few hours later, off-duty District Chief Stan Mettinger and another firefighter saw Schey inside the Brooksville Applebee's restaurant, where he had gone with relatives. According to Mettinger's statement, Schey was inebriated and was told several times by Mettinger, who was the acting fire chief that day, to stay away from the fire station.
The summary noted that Schey's condition, his earlier Facebook threats and the warning not to visit the station were not relayed to key supervisors on duty that day, including Kaplan, who was second-in-command on the shift.
According to Kaplan, he was outside the station building smoking a cigarette about 8:30 p.m. when he noticed the ladder truck was missing from its station bay. He told investigators that he learned from another firefighter that Schey had been behind the wheel. He said he did not hear of the interaction between Schey and the female firefighter until the next day.
Kaplan claims that a breakdown in communication among supervisors and others between shifts helped to create a situation that easily could have been avoided.
He was not made aware of several conversations that took place that day between Mettinger and Fire Chief Tim Mossgrove, who was out of town. Nor was he made aware that his shift supervisor, District Chief Mike Dow, was told that the two firefighters who had visited Schey earlier in the day had found him impaired.
Kaplan told the Times that being kept out of the loop left him unprepared to properly handle the situation.
"Mettinger thought it was important enough to call the chief about Sammy being ordered not to come to the station, but not me or anyone else on my shift," Kaplan stated in an interview. "Had he done that, I guarantee none of this would have happened."
Kaplan further stated that while he was told of Schey's intoxicated appearance by another firefighter, he knew that such behavior wasn't abnormal due to the prescription medications Schey took.
"If you didn't know that about Sammy, you could easily mistake him as being impaired," Kaplan said. "Not everyone knew that."
He provided the Times with an email to department supervisors dated June 13, 2013, that indicated Schey took a prescribed medication for a medical condition and it often made him tired. Kaplan further noted that he had seen Schey take department vehicles off the property on other occasions, and assumed that he had gotten permission to do so that night.
"That's how things are often done around there," said Kaplan, who explained that fire personnel sometimes take trucks out for servicing of fire hydrants, repairs and maintenance, and for training exercises.
Investigators noted in the summary that a lack of updated and current departmental procedures, plus a "loose and open" policy regarding fire station visits by off-duty personnel and family members, played a role in the incident, and that some department vehicles were parked in nonsecured areas where anyone could climb in and start them.
Although contacted by investigators, Schey missed an interview appointment and instead checked himself into Springbrook Hospital, a mental health facility west of Brooksville. Investigators found him culpable of violating several department guidelines, including unauthorized use of equipment, insubordination and improper conduct with a fellow employee. He resigned his position on April 29.
Attempts by the Times to reach Schey were unsuccessful.
City records show that Kaplan, who earned $14.42 an hour, had received no prior disciplinary actions. Schey, who earned $15.18 an hour, had only a minor infraction in 2008 for tardiness.
Citing city policies regarding employee matters, neither Mossgrove nor City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha would discuss the incident that led to the departures of Kaplan and Schey. Mossgrove did not say whether other employees were disciplined.
Kaplan said Norman-Vacha told him on Monday that she was still reviewing his role in the incident.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.