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Fired Brooksville fire captain must wait awhile longer for check from the city

Courtesy of Hillary Sanford Hillary Sanford was the Brooksville Fire Department\u2019s first female captain.
Published Aug. 21, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — More than two years after a Brooksville fire department captain was fired for breaking her boss' rule — a rule that violated directives from the agency's medical director — the City Council on Monday was poised to pay her a financial settlement for improper termination.

But minutes before the meeting began, Brooksville firefighters union chief Joe Keefer texted Hillary Sanford, who had traveled 92 miles to attend.

The settlement was off — apparently because city staffers hadn't included Social Security deductions from Sanford's $26,466 check. The City Council delayed a vote on the settlement for several weeks to update the numbers.

Sanford was the Brooksville Fire Department's first female driver, engineer and captain, and the agency's public face at events. In April 2016, her 11-year career with the agency ended after then-chief David Freda fired her for violating a policy he had just put in place. The firing prompted a blitz of public support for the well-known Sanford.

Freda's policy said that only advanced life-support personnel from Hernando County Fire Rescue, when they were present, could obtain a refusal for treatment from a potential patient. Emergency medical technicians from the Brooksville Fire Department could not, the policy said.

The department's medical director, Dr. Michael LoGuidice, warned Freda several times that the policy contradicted his written medical protocols for both agencies. LoGuidice preferred to release the highly trained paramedics as quickly as possible from a scene so they could be available for other serious emergencies. Sanford said she was following his directives because he was responsible for her medical credentials.

Brooksville's city manager at the time, Jennene Norman-Vacha, upheld the termination. An arbitrator, however, found in Sanford's favor more than a year ago, saying the firing was "clearly excessive.''

But a change in the city manager and city attorney, and the firing of Freda after his arrest on fraud charges connected to his time at the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department, kept the settlement in flux.

By August 10, all of the parties had signed off on the settlement, Keefer wrote to Brooksville Mayor Betty Erhard immediately after Monday's delay.

"The city attorney, the fire chief and the union have clearly improved communications, but there is a major break down in communications between City Hall and the union,'' Keefer wrote. "Could you please find out why the administration is delaying this action?"

Sanford said she snapped a picture of the calculations showing the settlement and traveled from where she lives and works in Osceola County to see the final conclusion.

"I don't understand,'' she said. "I really don't.''

Sanford's settlement included $17,715 for lost salary, plus amounts for pension and benefits, according to the settlement documents before the council Monday.

Vice mayor Robert Battista said the delay was strictly to make sure the city finalized the details.

"As far as I know, no one expressed concern about the amount,'' he said.

Sanford chose not to speak at the council meeting, but hoped that by sitting in the audience she put the council on notice that she wants to get the issue behind her.

"I'm not going to go away. I'm just not,'' she said. "I don't roll that way.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> Arbitrator rules fired Brooksville fire department captain should be reinstated

>>>Previous coverage:> Brooksville firefighter says her firing over policy question was unwarranted

>>>Previous coverage:> Fire Chiefs Gone Wild: Ex-chiefs ran free-spending 'frat house', investigators find

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