Tampa fire captain demoted for stripping off shirt, daring homeless man to fight

Jeremy Finney, 41, was demoted from captain to paramedic by Tampa Fire Rescue over an encounter he had on the job with a homeless man. [Facebook]
Jeremy Finney, 41, was demoted from captain to paramedic by Tampa Fire Rescue over an encounter he had on the job with a homeless man. [Facebook]
Published June 15 2018
Updated June 15 2018

TAMPA ó Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Jeremy Finney was, by all accounts, a model firefighter ó until he lost his cool. The outburst cost him two ranks.

Finney has served nearly 16 years in the department and was a member of the Tactical Medical Response Team, which accompanies SWAT teams on dangerous missions. He helped kids learn about firefighting through the departmentís Explorer program. He was a counselor at a union camp for burned children.

But he lost his temper with a homeless man in 2017, daring him to fight. He was demoted last month past the lower rank of lieutenant to paramedic.

Finney, 41, was part of a rescue squad that responded to a call about a homeless man with chest pains on Feb. 4, 2017. He told investigators he was trying to help the drunken man to his feet when the man fell back down, pulling Finney with him.

Finney said he told the man, "Come on, be a man," prompting the man to respond: "F--- you guys, people in uniform."

He tried to calm the man, Finney said, but the man exposed himself, told Finney to "suck it" and was "full of mess."

Finney stayed in the back of the unit with Angenetta Mitchell, an acting lieutenant, for her safety, he told Personnel Chief Todd Alt.

But when Alt interviewed Mitchell and other crew members, a different version of events emerged. They said Finney cursed the homeless man and exchanged foul language with him.

Mitchell remembered the man saying to Finney: "You wouldnít treat me that way without that badge on your chest. Youíre hiding behind a badge and (otherwise Iíll) kick your butt."

Another crew member said Finney called the man a foul name, pulled off his shirt, then said in a "threatening tone": "Now I donít have the badge on my chest. What are you going to do?"

Attempting to defuse the situation, Mitchell said, she instructed the man to flip over on the stretcher and talk to her. Finney then used an expletive while directing the man how to lie on the stretcher.

The man flipped back over and started talking again with Finney.

Mitchell then asked Finney to leave the rear of the rescue car, according to a notice of disciplinary action contained in Finneyís personnel file.

The location of the incident was not available in city records. The manís identity wasnít released because of patient privacy laws, city human resources officials said.

Finney could not be reached for comment.

The incident didnít come to light until a firefighter in another grievance process told Alt about it in December.

Finney was further disciplined for talking to Mitchell about her testimony even though he had been warned against speaking with anyone about the incident while it was under investigation, according to the disciplinary action notice.

He was demoted May 31. His annual salary was cut from $99,590 to $86,786. He was barred from taking a promotional exam for two years and removed from the SWAT medics team and Explorer program.

Finney has no other disciplinary action on his record.

In a November 2017 evaluation, he received 13 out of 15 possible points in communication skills, interpersonal skills and interacting with the public.

Then-Fire Chief Thomas Forward wrote that Finney, who was promoted to captain in 2015, "demonstrates high professional standards. Jeremy is successfully developing the skills needed to maintain the highest standards of professional excellence."

Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said the department doesnít anticipate any further problems with Finney. Because of his confrontation with the homeless man, administrators wanted him removed from a supervisory position so he was demoted the two ranks, Penny said.

Finney will continue as a counselor at his unionís camp for young burn victims, Camp Hopetake, said Stephen Suarez, president of Local 754 of the International Association of Firefighters.

"As far as this union is concerned, Jeremy has been a model employee throughout his whole career," Suarez said. "Everyone hits their point occasionally. Was it right? No. However, I feel that the discipline was too harsh."

Finney, a union member, still has time to appeal the decision, Suarez said.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. [email protected]