Editor’s Note: This is the story voted on by The Apopka Voice readers as the biggest of 2016. It was a developing story that started in May with a sudden retirement by Fire Chief Lee Bronson, and concluded with the hiring of longtime APD employee Chuck Carnesale a few weeks later.
Originally Published: June 15th, 2016
The Apopka City Council voted 5-0 last night to approve Chuck Carnesale as Apopka's new fire chief. He takes over a department of more than 80 firefighters.
"He started as an Explorer at age 13, graduated high school, Fire Academy and EMT school simultaneously in 1989, and was a dispatcher at age 17," said Mayor Joe Kilsheimer. " he has filled almost every position at The Apopka Fire Department."
"I hate to mention I've been on this journey for 33 years when my mother dropped me off to look at fire trucks," said Carnesale. "Thank you. I won't let you down. I won't let the public down. I won't let the firefighters down."
Carnesale has served as assistant fire chief since 2013, heading up the fire department’s emergency medical and ambulance services. He is certified as a firefighter, EMT/paramedic, fire officer, fire inspector and instructor in various fields. In 1990, Carnesale was hired as a full-time firefighter/EMT. In 2000 he was recognized by then Gov. Jeb Bush as Apopka’s Firefighter of the Year.
He was promoted to engineer in 2001, lieutenant in 2005, captain and EMS coordinator in 2006 and assistant fire chief in 2013. Carnesale attended Seminole State and Valencia colleges, Florida State Fire College and the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD.
He has served on several medical boards, and this year Orange County Medical Director Dr. George Ralls appointed him to the Orange County EMS Advisory Council.
The City Council was pleased with Kilsheimer's choice.
"Chuck is an amazing person," said Commissioner Kyle Becker. I know he is going to do a fantastic job. I couldn't be more happy for you (Carnesale)."
"I'm glad we brought someone in from our own fire department," said Commissioner Billie Dean. "We have the best fire department in America. We should hire from within. I commend you (Kilsheimer) on the choice."
Carnesale replaces former Fire Chief Lee Bronson.
Originally Published: May 25th, 2016
For the fourth time in two years a prominent member of Apopka's leadership hired by former Mayor John Land has left their post in a way that seems surprising or not of their own volition.
Apopka Police Chief Robert Manley suddenly retired in August of 2015, City Attorney Frank Kruppenbacher quit during a City Council meeting in July of 2014, City Administrator Richard Anderson transitioned into a “lobbyist” in September of 2014 and now a fire chief is pressured into “retiring” from his position.
AFD Fire Chief Lee Bronson became the latest casualty when earlier this month City Administrator Glenn Irby asked him to sign a separation agreement that would terminate his employment as Fire Chief of Apopka. Bronson’s annual salary was $129,705.16, his severance compensation is 20-weeks of income.
Bronson served as Apopka's Fire Chief since 2007. He originally was hired in 1974, and retired in 2005 before returning for a second stint.
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer had no comment on Bronson’s departure, according to Robert Sargent, Public Information Officer for The City of Apopka. And for the past two weeks, The City of Apopka has been silent on the issue to the point of advising the media not to speak to Fire Department employees. Even City Commissioners have been left without answers.
Commissioner Kyle Becker did not have any information on the Bronson departure, but did give him credit for the quality department he ran for nine years.
“I would like to thank Chief Bronson for his many years of dedicated service to the city and citizens of Apopka,” he said. “We have one of the best departments in the nation, and probably some of the friendliest and most professional fire/rescue personnel you could find anywhere. This has to be a direct reflection of Chief Bronson's leadership, and will be a great legacy for anyone following in his place.”
Apopka Commissioner Doug Bankson was asking questions and even visited the department earlier in the month, but still doesn't know what caused Bronson’s separation.
"He's been a wonderful public servant," Bankson said. "I'm very disappointed to see him go, and, like everyone else, I'm really wanting to know more information."
Commissioner Bilile Dean was also left in the dark as to the reason Bronson is no longer the Fire Chief.
“I have no idea as to why Chief Bronson separated from our city. Whatever the reason, in my opinion, Apopka is losing a great employee and I am saddened by his departure. I have known Chief Bronson for many years and appreciate his friendship and loyalty to our City. When concerns were raised about the lack of diversity within the fire department, Chief Bronson addressed those concerns and made a commitment to increase recruitment efforts in hiring more minorities. His efforts were successful! I thank and applaud Chief Bronson for his professionalism, and the exceptional leadership he has provided to our fire department and to the Citizens of Apopka.”
Commissioner Diane Velazquez said she was not directly involved in the process and had no new information on the details of Bronson's retirement, but did wish him well in his new life.
"In my tenure as Commissioner, Chief Bronson was always respectful, professional and courteous with me. I want to thank him for his dedication, leadership and the many years of service to both the Apopka Fire Department and our city. I wish him good health and happiness in his retirement. Embarking on a new chapter in his life. Retirement will gift him with many new hours of the days ahead, allowing him to on take on new adventures."
Originally Published: May 6th, 2016
For the past four days, mystery, rumor and speculation have swirled around the Apopka Fire Department.
On Tuesday afternoon, Apopka Fire Chief Lee Bronson walked the short distance from his office in the Fire Department Headquarters to City Hall for a meeting. Upon leaving that meeting he told a source "This may be the last time you see me here."
Bronson did not return to the Fire Department after that meeting, and has not been back since, according to a source with ties to the AFD.
Three elected officials and one person with ties to the AFD have talked to The Apopka Voice on condition of anonymity. All four sources gave similar details that stated "The City of Apopka has asked Chief Bronson to retire."
On Thursday afternoon, The City of Apopka Public Information Officer Robert Sargent in an email stated "We do not comment on personnel matters." when asked if Bronson had retired, resigned or was terminated. On Friday morning when asked who the Fire Chief of Apopka is, Sargent stated "We covered this subject yesterday." He went on to say that the Apopka firefighters have been told not to talk to the news media unless given permission from the City.
The Apopka Voice called The Apopka Fire Department this morning and asked to speak to Chief Bronson. "He is not available, may I take a message?" was the reply from the person who answered the phone. When asked if Chief Bronson is still the Fire Chief of Apopka, they replied "We do not have any information at this time."
For over 10 years Chief Bronson has led a department that now has more than 80 full-time firefighters, an administrative staff of 8, 30 volunteers, and 4 fire stations.