TAMPA — The late Wednesday night news dump by the city of Tampa contained revelations that set the city’s gossipers to chattering, but a day later details were still hard to come by as to why Fire Chief Nick LoCicero and two senior Tampa Fire Rescue leaders were suspended.
Mayor Jane Castor announced 9 p.m. Wednesday that she had suspended Division Chief of Training Susan Tamme and Training Officer John Muralt along with LoCicero — who had been named chief by her predecessor, Bob Buckhorn in 2018. The only explanation given for the suspensions was that there was an ongoing investigation into their conduct.
But why? The release stated only that the trio had been suspended for “allegations of misconduct and a lack of supervisory oversight associated with the misconduct.”
On Thursday, City Council members praised the mayor’s new interim chief, division chief Barbara Tripp, who will lead the department until the probe is complete.
Meanwhile, Castor’s office remained mum about any details leading to the suspensions.
“The records become public after the completion of the investigation and are available for review at that time. We do not comment on open investigations until such time as they are concluded,” texted mayoral spokeswoman Ashley Bauman Thursday.
Tripp, a 23-year department veteran, was praised by council members and senior administration staff during a brief appearance before City Council.
“Today is a great moment,” said council member Orlando Gudes, who noted that Tripp was the first Black woman to lead the city’s fire and rescue operations. He said he wouldn’t even use the term “interim” when he addresses her.
Tripp said little, pledging to get down to business quickly.
“I have a lot of work to do,” she said.
Amid the department’s turmoil, council member Luis Viera called for immediate relief for North Tampa’s Fire Station 13, which was ranked by a national trade publication last year as having the 20th busiest call log in the United States.
Viera’s call was approved unanimously.
Gudes, who successfully advocated for better ambulance service for East Tampa last year, said North Tampa, along with the Channel District, needed more resources to deliver quicker call times.
“We need relief. Right here, right now,” Gudes said.
Fire union president Joe Greco said Tampa is growing so fast, and has such significant sprawl, that more than a dozen new stations would need to be built to reduce response times to four minutes, the current best practice.
For now, he said, help in the form of new equipment and staff needs to go to North Tampa and the Channel District.
“It’s a slow process but we have to start the process,” Greco said.
Council members requested Castor’s response by Jan. 14 for solving the strained fire resources in North Tampa.
The mayor’s chief of staff, John Bennett, noted that the mayor had spent more than $37 million on fire department needs since she took office. But he praised the spirit of collaboration between council members and the mayor’s office.
A new station opened last year in New Tampa. Even so, Viera, who represents North Tampa and New Tampa, said the rapid growth in the city’s northern neighborhoods demonstrates the need for another station in New Tampa, too.
Council members agreed to discuss the long-term needs of the department at a March 25 workshop.
Who will be the fire chief helping make those decisions? Stay tuned.