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UPROAR FOLLOWS SHIRT LEFT AT TRAGEDY

Pasco's fire chief tries to ease hurt feelings of a reprimand for a shirt left in South Carolina. 1 inch 1 inch of body type 1 inch 1 inch of body type 1 inch 1 inch of body type 1

Here is the first part of the story.

Nine South Carolina firefighters die in a burning warehouse. Pasco firefighter goes to Charleston on his own dime, leaves department-issued polo shirt on a makeshift memorial, gets reprimand for giving away county property, fears he'll be fired, asks Charleston fire officials to mail the shirt back. They do.

Here is the latest.

Firefighters across the nation read about the incident on a newspaper Web site. They are furious. The St. Petersburg Times receives nearly 200 e-mails, calls and comments. And Pasco County Fire Chief Anthony Lopinto makes a cautious retreat.

Lopinto told the Times on Tuesday he is writing a letter to Charleston's fire chief, expressing his sorrow for the department's loss. Furthermore, he said he plans to ask Acting Assistant Chief Mike Ciccarello, the man who gave the reprimand, to call Charleston's chief and explain himself.

"We're just sorry that it happened," Lopinto said of the reprimand. "We are embarrassed by it."

But while he believes Ciccarello could have handled the situation without formal discipline, he stopped short of saying what numerous firefighters outside the department have said in response to the story: that Capt. David Garofalo deserves praise for his spontaneous gift.

"There has to be some accountability," Lopinto said. "Some people don't accept that, but this is taxpayer money."

And the reprimand stands.

The polo shirt is worth $23.95. Garofalo laid it down on June 22, four days after the fire, at a shrine to the dead firefighters outside the Charleston warehouse. Someone within Pasco Fire Rescue told administrators, and Garofalo came under investigation.

On July 17, Ciccarello gave Garofalo a "Written Verbal Caution," a minor act of discipline.

"This verbal caution was the results of you leaving your County Polo as a memento in respect for the death of 9 Charleston firefighters," Ciccarello wrote. "The Department realized that you got caught up in the emotions of the Memorial but you need to be reminded of your options. If you would have contacted the Department we would have been able to work with you as long as the payment or the replacement of the shirt was accomplished. You must understand that your uniform or any other equipment that is issued to you is not yours to give away."

It's his now, however, because the manufacturer, DesignLab, sent Garofalo two free replacements. He has said he plans to give the first shirt back to the Charleston Fire Department.

After the story broke, the e-mail poured in.

"Thank you Captain David Garofalo for your respect for the nine firefighters killed in Charleston, SC," wrote Elaine Merritt of Tallahassee. "My Nephew, Captain William 'Billy' Hutchinson, was one of the nine. I hope your Superior's Superior will accept my gratitude for your heartfelt response."

Many readers said Ciccarello should be ashamed.

"You have disgraced yourself and your department; however, due to the integrity of the actions of Capt. David Garofalo, I believe the honor of your department will rise above you and its administration," wrote June Taylor, whose husband, Capt. Gary Taylor of the Charleston Fire Department, was there when the men died.

Garofalo was not the only Tampa Bay area firefighter to leave a shirt outside the warehouse. Jim Campbell, a driver-paramedic for East Lake Fire Rescue, left a T-shirt on a hedge near shirts left by other Florida departments, including Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

But unlike Garofalo, he got advance permission from his deputy chief.

Now a photo of Campbell laying the shirt down is displayed on the department's Web site.

He says he has not been asked to buy a replacement.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

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