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Tarpon fire chief placed on leave; he went to fire scene after drinking

Tarpon Springs' fire chief has been placed on administrative leave after he admitted to city officials that he showed up at a fire on a night he had been drinking.

Chief Stephen Moreno, who has led the department since 2005, notified Mayor Beverley Billiris and City Manager Mark LeCouris, Billiris said Friday.

"I immediately called for a full investigation of the matter," Billiris said. "He notified us of the lapse in judgment before we received any complaints from anyone."

The city has since received several complaints about Moreno's actions at the fire that killed a prominent doctor and gutted a million-dollar home.

Among them, a letter from Palm Harbor Fire Rescue Deputy Craig Maciuba to Don Sayre, a Tarpon Springs fire division chief, accusing Moreno of risking the safety of everyone at the scene.

Moreno showed up in civilian clothes and began issuing orders that conflicted with those of the officer in charge, according to a memo from Palm Harbor Lt. Scott Sanford.

"I made some judgment decisions that went outside of the best practices that are established in Pinellas County and created a little bit of confusion and heartache," Moreno said Friday.

At about 11:30 p.m. Jan. 14, firefighters responded to a report of a mattress fire at 1304 Belcher Drive at the home of Dr. Frederick Roever, 69.

Moreno reported that he had been out socially when the fire call came in. He indicated Friday that when he arrived at the scene a significant time had passed since he had consumed alcohol.

Seventeen units from Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and East Lake responded.

Roever, 69, died in the fire. His wife, Patricia, escaped.

Moreno will remain on leave until the investigation is complete, Billiris said.

The investigation was ongoing Friday. The city was in the process of interviewing Tarpon Springs firefighters who were at the fire.

Demorris Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174. Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Tarpon fire chief placed on leave; he went to fire scene after drinking 01/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 2:06pm]
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