Fired Naples Fire Chief Accused By Union Leader Of Telling Firefighters To Let Buildings Burn

NAPLES, FL – Steve McInerny, the former chief of the Naples Fire-Rescue Department, ordered staff to erroneously change fire reports and said firefighters should let structures burn to convince the City Council the department needs more money, the head of the fire union claims in investigative documents released Wednesday.

City Manager Bill Moss cut the investigation short when he fired McInerny last month, so the 758 documents offer no conclusion as to the allegations made by the union last October that McInerny has acted improperly, which the union outlined in a letter sent to the council. But transcripts from dozens of hours of interviews with firefighters highlight complaints and claims about McInerny’s management style and the way he represented the department to the public.

Document: Read the investigation documents.

In a six-and-a-half hour interview on Nov. 10, Adam Nadelman, president of the IAFF Local 2174, told investigator Vicki Sproat that McInerny gave orders to over-report fire intensity and damage as part of an effort to lobby the council for more staff and new equipment.

Nadelman said McInerny, who was chief since 2009, made “several comments” indicating “we really need to burn something down to the ground … to prove to the council that we need more people.”

The council has recently denied McInerny’s requests for more staff and facility or equipment upgrades.

According to the documents, McInerny told Sproat he expected Nadelman to say the chief ordered firefighters to “let buildings burn.” McInerny said the order referred to a fire in Aqualane Shores in June 2015. McInerny told firefighters “to back out because firefighters were being hurt,” according to the documents.

McInerny’s lawyer, Robert Bates, didn’t return messages Wednesday night seeking comment.

As a means “to try and look busier,” Nadelman said, McInerny made orders to upgrade smaller incidents to larger ones in fire reports.

“The chief wants you to change it to a building fire,” Nadelman told the investigator. “Well there was no fire, it was just an overheated motor or a short circuit. The Chief says he wants it this way. Well, that’s not what it was. Well this is what he wants.”

“I would love to get extra personnel. But at what cost?” Nadelman said. “I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to put anyone’s life in jeopardy.

“The chief has created an environment to where he would rather see something fail, or see someone get hurt or something burnt down and then say, ‘See, I told you we need more people.'”

McInerny also gave orders to “dramatically” increase property damages on fire reports, according to Nadelman’s transcript.

“Generally, he’ll say, ‘just put this number down,'” Nadelman said. “And that’s what you are going to put down.”

Sproat, from the Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt law firm in Fort Myers, was hired by the city in October to investigate McInerny after the union said it had lost confidence in him. But her investigation ended on March 15 when Moss fired McInerny.

Moss said McInerny’s firing wasn’t related to the investigation and “should not be interpreted as a disciplinary firing.”

According to the documents, McInerny declined to be formally interviewed by Sproat. But Sproat held two preliminary conversations with McInerny in November.

In a letter sent to the city last week by McInerny’s lawyer, McInerny describes the investigation as a “political hit.” He claimed in another letter in February that council members Doug Finlay, Linda Penniman, Sam Saad and former mayor John Sorey acted against him, either individually or in a conspiracy.

Saad publicly called for McInerny’s firing last year and said he didn’t trust him. Finlay in 2014 accused McInerny of over-reporting the department’s number of structure fires. Finlay worried the reports would try to be used to justify increased spending.

In his transcript, Nadelman said McInerny didn’t allow for needed repairs to the department’s old fire station at City Hall. McInerny was worried that “if we fix some of these major issues, they’re not going to give me a new fire station,” according to Nadelman’s transcript.

Attached to the hundreds of pages of interviews is a two-page memo from Moss, which offers little explanation as to the investigation’s findings.

The investigation’s sole purpose, Moss said, was to determine whether to proceed with another investigation that would ultimately recommend whether disciplinary action was warranted.

“Such determination was not necessary, as the question is moot due to the fact the employment relationship was severed,” Moss wrote in the memo.

“There was no investigation or conclusion to decide the facts and truth of allegations made in the union’s letter and statements made during the subsequent inquiry,” Moss wrote.

Moss didn’t respond to a message Wednesday night asking how much the city paid Sproat for the investigation.

From The Naples Daily News

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