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Sanibel fire chief resigns in wake of investigation

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Oct 20, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Fire Chief Matt Scott

The Sanibel Fire and Rescue District’s commission recently accepted the resignation of the fire chief following the completion of an investigation into an allegation regarding the issuance of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) card.

At their Oct. 14 meeting, the commissioners approved a resolution 3-0 accepting the resignation of Fire Chief Matt Scott. On Oct. 12, he submitted his resignation to the commission, effective immediately.

“After serving the community and Sanibel Fire Rescue District for some 30 years, I regretfully resign effective immediately,” Scott wrote. “After reviewing the report completed by Lewis, Longman & Walker, it is obvious to me that my presence at the Sanibel Fire Rescue District is no longer in the best interest.”

At a special meeting on Sept. 23, the commission voted 3-0 to direct the district’s attorneys to conduct an investigation into allegations concerning the issuance of a CPR card by a district employee to a person not employed by the district, who had not completed the training required for the card. It also voted 3-0 to place Scott, as well as Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett, on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation into the allegation about the issuance of the CPR card.

The Basic Life Support (BLS) card in question had been issued to Lisa Scott, the wife of Scott.

PHOTO PROVIDED Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett

During the course of the investigation, the district’s attorneys conducted interviews with Matt Scott, Barrett, Lee County Public Safety Director Ben Abes and others, as well as reviewed the file and related material from the fact-finding investigation of Lisa Scott by supervisors at Lee County EMS.

The investigation by Lewis, Longman & Walker found that Lisa Scott contacted her husband to obtain a renewal of her BLS card that was about to expire. At the time, she was employed with Lee County EMS as an EMT. A card was issued on Aug. 25 and Scott sent it to her, which she sent to her employer.

Based on discrepancies with the card, an administrative review was initiated by Lee County EMS. The county requested documentation that she had attended the required BLS course for the card, which indicated the Sanibel district had provided it. The course documentation raised additional questions for officials and Lee County initiated an investigation on Sept. 4.

Lee County conducted a fact-finding interview with Lisa Scott on Sept. 9 and learned she had not completed the class nor test for her BLS renewal, finding the card issued to her was fraudulent. She had been placed on administrative leave pending the findings of the investigation; Scott later resigned.

Among the findings from the investigation by the district’s attorneys were:

PHOTO PROVIDED Fire Chief William Briscoe

– Scott communicated to Barrett that his wife needed a BLS renewal urgently. Barrett reported that he assumed Lisa Scott would be coming in later to attend the class, but Scott wanted the card issued immediately irrespective of when his wife actually attended the class.

– Barrett filled out the course documents necessary to issue a BLS renewal card, which were then entered into the American Heart Association’s eCard System and a renewal card was generated. At no point did Lisa Smith attend the BLS course, nor did she contact Barrett about scheduling the class.

“Chief Scott denies that he assisted his wife in obtaining the BLS renewal card at issue, beyond referring her to Barrett. However, Barrett is adamant that Scott ordered him to issue the card, before Lisa Scott took the class,” the attorneys noted. “While inferences can be drawn from the available evidence, there is no conclusive evidence that Scott pressured Barrett or otherwise knowingly assisted his wife in fraudulently obtaining the BLS card.”

Among the conclusions from the investigation by the attorneys were:

– There is a factual issue over whether Scott ordered or pressured Barrett to issue the card before his wife took the course. It could also be true that Barrett misunderstood Scott’s directive. Barrett said intimidation was a factor in his decision to issue the BLS card to Lisa Scott and in his decision to suppress any concerns after she made no attempt to attend the class. This belief was based on prior encounters with the chief.

– Barrett said he would have never issued the card if he knew Lisa Scott would not be attending the course. It should also be pointed out that by failing to contact Barrett, clearly Lisa Scott was under the impression she would not have to take the BLS course. The only individual she spoke to at the Sanibel fire district was her husband.

– In order to believe Scott had no knowledge of his wife’s failure to attend the BLS course, one must also believe he and his wife never discussed the matter. Even after Abes at Lee County EMS contacted Scott about discrepancies with his wife’s BLS renewal, Scott apparently never broached the topic with her.

– However, assuming Scott’s denial of prior knowledge to be true, he stated he discovered on Sept. 4 that his wife did not take the BLS class for which he sent her the renewal card. This means he simultaneously learned on Sept. 4 that Barrett had issued a BLS renewal card without the card recipient attending the course or demonstrating the required skills for a BLS renewal — a serious, and potentially criminal, offense. Despite possessing this knowledge for several weeks prior to being placed on administration leave, Scott did not commence an investigation or appoint another supervisor to commence an investigation into Barrett’s actions.

“According to Lee County EMS, the matter has been referred to the Department of Health for investigation. There could still be serious repercussions for the district as a result of this event,” the attorneys noted. “Upon learning that an employee had engaged in fraudulent activity related to district business, Scott had a duty to immediately appoint an investigator.”

In light of Scott’s resignation, the commissioners also moved at the meeting to promote Deputy Fire Chief William Briscoe — who was serving as interim chief — to chief. The motion passed 3-0.

The commission agreed to let Briscoe handle Barrett and decide what to do.

“We regret losing our chief due to the circumstances, but it was the right thing to do,” Commissioner Bruce Cochrane said. “I have complete confidence in Bill moving forward. He will serve our district very well.”

“Billy’s handled everything we’ve ever asked him to do,” Commissioner Jerry Muench said. “We’re excited that we have the personnel to fill the vacancy of the chief. He’ll be a great chief.”

“I feel that the entire chief situation was very unfortunate,” Commissioner Richard McCurry said. “But moving forward, I have all the confidence in Chief Briscoe.”

Briscoe expressed his appreciation for the commission’s confidence in him.

“I hope I can be the best I can be, for my staff and the community,” he said.

According to a statement released by the district following the meeting, Scott was employed at the Sanibel agency for over 30 years. He started as a volunteer and worked his way up through the ranks. Scott was a vital part of the All Hazards Incident Management Team, which plans for and responds to natural and man-made disasters. Most notably, he assisted with large wildfires, the fire at Southwest Florida International Airport, and multiple hurricanes throughout Florida.

The district noted that his knowledge and experience is a great loss for the agency.

“Chief Scott has been a staple for the department and for our island community,” Briscoe said in the statement. “We wish him well on his future endeavors.”

IN OTHER NEWS

– The Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved the district’s ALS license application during its Oct. 6 meeting. The application now goes before a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 3.

– The following personnel were recognized for their years of service: Chief Financial Officer Mary Hickey for 24 years, engineer-paramedic Joe Nygaard for 19 years, engineer-paramedic John Reitenback for 17 years, firefighter-EMT Craig Shelby for three years, and firefighter-EMT Adam Felix for one year.

– The district responded to 125 calls in September, compared to 112 calls last year. The district has responded to a total of 1,155 calls this year, compared to 1,263 calls for the same timeframe in 2019.

…..

ORIGINAL (Oct. 14, 2020):

The Sanibel Fire and Rescue District’s commission accepted the resignation of the fire chief today following the completion of an investigation into an allegation regarding the issuance of a CPR card.

At their meeting, the commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a resolution accepting the resignation of Fire Chief Matt Scott. On Oct. 12, he submitted his resignation to the commission, effective immediately.

“After serving the community and Sanibel Fire Rescue District for some 30 years, I regretfully resign effective immediately,” Scott wrote. “After reviewing the report completed by Lewis, Longman & Walker, it is obvious to me that my presence at the Sanibel Fire Rescue District is no longer in the best interest.”

At a special meeting on Sept. 23, the commission voted 3-0 to direct the district’s attorneys to conduct an investigation into allegations concerning the issuance of a CPR card by a district employee to a person not employed by the district, who had not completed the training required for the card. It also voted 3-0 to place Scott, as well as Division Chief of Training Tim Barrett, on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation into the allegation about the issuance of the CPR card.

The Basic Life Support (BLS) card in question had been issued to Lisa Scott, the wife of Scott.

In light of Scott’s resignation, the commissioners also moved today to promote Deputy Fire Chief William Briscoe — who has been serving as interim chief — to chief. The motion passed 3-0.

A full story on the meeting is forthcoming.