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City Council backs a consultant for the Apopka Fire Department, but is that enough?


Like many of you, I watched the March 15th Apopka City Council meeting in its entirety. Knowing I would write about it, I transcribed the quotes (all 13,000 words) from the Gannon report presentation and then listened to parts of it again. I watched as Fire Chief Sean Wylam was pressed more and more by commissioners to explain his previous actions and future plans. I listened as public comments from residents called for his ouster.

In audio, video, and text, it was an excruciating experience.

I've watched closely as this Shakespearean tragedy has played out over the last eight months. Only this, unfortunately, is not fiction. 

I've made the case before that Central Florida media only comes around Apopka when there is bad news. But I'm not sure I've seen them encircle the city quite like this before. On a Google Alert for the AFD, there were FIVE separate media outlets publishing critical articles about the AFD.

  • WESH: "Report details health and safety concerns at Apopka Fire Department"
  • Fox 35: "New scrutiny for Apopka's Fire Chief over handling of firefighter's death"
  • Click Orlando: "New report recommends sweeping changes at Apopka Fire Department"
  • WFTV: "Apopka Fire Chief calls for adding deputy chief, training programs, but sees pushback"
  • Fire Engineering: "Chief's job in jeopardy after young firefighter's death"

A few weeks ago, the Orlando Sentinel wrote an editorial about the subject critical of both Nelson and Wylam.

To these outlets, it may be just a juicy story, but to Apopkans and to local media, it's becoming a chronic embarrassment.

During the Gannon presentation, Wylam did his best to make a case for his leadership in moving the AFD forward.

"Every organization has its blind spots, issues, and concerns and can benefit from an outside assessment from time to time," Wylam said. "That was the goal and objective of hiring Gannon. In its 44-page document, it covers every aspect of health and safety within our department."

That makes sense, except for the fact that upon receipt of the Gannon report, both he and the city administration tore it apart with 154 edits before releasing it as a public record to the commissioners and media weeks later.

"Accountability. There's a lot of talk about this word recently," said Wylam. "I want everyone to know that I understand that this happened in my tenure as fire chief. I do ...But make no mistake, I'm the chief, and the buck stops here. No more excuses... we're going to persevere and move forward ...It will take a lot of work. But with open minds and productive dialogue, and personal action plans, I know we will emerge ready to face the future and make the Apopka Fire Department the best it's ever been."

He also made the following recommendations:

  • A strategic plan to be announced on April 3rd
  • Adding an emergency signal for Fire Station 1 - which was later passed by the City Council
  • Naming a deputy fire chief

Commissioner Diane Velazquez was the first to question Wylam after his presentation. She urged him to look outside the department for assistance.

"Would it be beneficial to our fire department since the Gannon report provided the deficiencies and recommendations," she asked. So rather than you taking it on to create those changes or to institute changes, would it be beneficial for us, the city for the fire department, to bring in that outsider to help you strengthen your fire department and to ensure that it is brought up to the level that we are now expecting?

"In my opinion, I think our best option is to utilize the resources we have," Wylam said.

"When you say no, can you explain to me why? Velazquez asked again.  "We went out to look for an organization to help us figure out how to make our department better. They created, they went, and they did their investigation again and came back with this report. Now you're saying we would not benefit from them coming in and helping to strengthen our fire department, and it's just contradicting. We asked them to come to evaluate us. And now we say we don't need them."

"That's something that we asked for," Wylam said. "And we want to use our current staff. We do have very qualified people, highly qualified people in positions now, and people who want to make a difference. You know, I think I think it's discouraging if we don't encourage that, for the morale. I think what you need to do is let us manage the change. And as much as we all want, we all want to move forward. I think that's the biggest thing. I feel the pulse of counsel or the pulse of my guys and gals and feel the pulse of the public. We all want to move forward."

"I wish you could feel my pulse right now," said Commissioner Kyle Becker. "I'm just pumping like crazy."

Becker was disappointed with Wylam's account of the report and questioned if Wylam could still be effective as fire chief.

"You know, we had a conversation, the pre-meeting before the last city council meeting, and I kind of gave my blueprint to you. Now, again, this is just one person on how I think you could have come into this room and knocked this presentation out of the park. But unless I wrote down every single thing that you just told me that you were doing, I mean, we're just looking at blank words on the page on a PowerPoint slide... But I don't see how combined with an 85% vote of no confidence, how you can remain in a position with, again, a lack of a strategic plan. Again, future tense on that, just 85% of confidence with the men and women in your department. And then a very underwhelming presentation, I must say."

Commissioner Alexander Smith has remained, for the most part, quiet on the subject. But even he was disappointed with Wylam's presentation.

"I know we all want the best for our city and for our firefighters," Smith said. "And I think you did yourself a little unjust injustice tonight because of the presentation that you gave to me. I don't know about the rest of the commissioners, but the presentation you gave me was an outstanding presentation as to how you plan to move forward. And it was a lot more than the few bullets that you've shown us here tonight. And maybe should have taken the time to put all of those things in the presentation tonight. I know it would have been a long meeting. But it would have been well worth it. So they can actually see your heart and what you plan to do."

Smith also urged Wylam to accept outside help.

"I would strongly suggest that we take advantage of the offer that Gannon gave us in reference to coming on board and assisting us in doing this, and I don't have any doubt that you're capable of doing that. But it wouldn't hurt to have somebody that was there also to lend that extra expertise and guide you in that direction. We need to make sure that they understand their role that you still are Chief and there is an advisory capacity, but I feel that that would be a great benefit to our department and will also help to rebuild the morale of our firefighters."

Commissioner Nick Nesta was also underwhelmed at Wylam's account of the Gannon report.

"This was lackluster, and I just want to start with some questions and comments," he said, reading quotes from AFD firefighters in the Gannon report. "The biggest one was when I read this report. This specific comment highlighted 'there was conflict and disharmony before the accident.' There's another one that goes into saying, 'I go to the station, have to think you have to take a deep breath before I go in now because it's become depressing, and just a paycheck.'

Nesta returned to the idea of a "Change Manager" for the AFD and how Wylam could not play that role.

"Going back with that in mind, going back to what a change manager needs to be. You can't be everything. And somebody needs to be in here to tell you that you're wrong. And so having somebody that is dedicated to communicating effectively is key to this. And I don't feel that you're the person that can communicate effectively with those people. I read in your press release that you're going to work on communication, which is fine. That's great. But I do think we need somebody dedicated to telling you, hey, you're doing that wrong. Hey, let's communicate a little bit different with this station. They seem to work in this fashion."

Nesta also pointed out that Wylam may not be as mobile as a fire chief should be.

"I think that's another thing. I mean, have you been to all the fire stations within the last two months?" Nesta asked.

No," said Wylam.

"Do you see where I'm coming from? Nesta asked. "I'm not trying to beat you up. But these are deficiencies that, again, a change manager is in there. When I go to the fire stations, I'm able to talk to the firefighters, and they start breaking down different things that they find deficiencies, and because I built confidence with them, I built communication and trust that the same thing you could be doing the last few months since 2019. So again, those are the areas where we need change. And I know that you feel you're the person to do it, but you're not doing it. So that's where we're having a breakdown. You cannot be the Change Manager. I think it's a third party that comes in and helps you with that. The fact you haven't been to the fire stations, again, they need to help you with that."

Nelson, who is still standing by Wylam, asked him to go over his list of accomplishments.

"We've talked about the accomplishments that you'd made, as relates to Gannon on the report. Do you have that list? Nelson asked Wylam.

As Wylam looked for the list, Nelson continued.

"We have certain things we've worked on this year as far as safety-related things," Nelson asked.

"Yes," Wylam said.

"You know, while you're finding that, one of the things that he's working on is his style of communication, and we've got somebody he's working with. We've had him under contract... I'm going to say it's been 18 months. Bob Spencer is helping him."

Then Nelson looked back at Wylam.

"Can you give me the accomplishments? Did you find some of the things this year?" 

"Can I just say this? Velazquez asked. "It's almost like you're saying these are your accomplishments. What really is the issue here? There was a fireman's life we lost. And so we were saying, How can we improve safety? And I'll commend you on your accomplishments. But that's not the issue right now. The issue that we're trying to say is what will help you be stronger as a fire department, build your morale, and build the most important thing that has been lost - trust? And so I think you giving us the accomplishments still doesn't change the one thing that we don't have that you don't have - trust. So all I'm asking is, would you consider hiring the very organization that you went to, to hire to help you find the deficiencies in the fire department?"

While the Gannon report may have been the most talked about subject in Apopka this year, this was the first time the author made an appearance in Apopka. Chris Gannon, the CEO of Gannon Emergency Solutions, took to the podium to explain his report.

"I've heard my name mentioned an awful lot tonight and in the previous six months leading up to this point," Gannon said with a British accent. "So I'm glad to have the opportunity actually to introduce myself. This morning, the first thing I did when I got into Apopka is I went to Austin Duran's gravesite. And I would encourage everybody to do that if you haven't already because it puts this whole thing into perspective. The reason we're fighting, the reason we're disputing and debating, is because of that young man's life. There's an awful lot being said, but we've got to all focus on the rationale behind this. as everybody has said, and everyone recognizes is to change and improve the culture in the fire department so that this doesn't happen to anyone else or anyone else's family."

Gannon went on to explain why he believes his company can help the AFD.

"A lot has been said publicly or privately since the Ganon report was published. I'm even quoting my own name. And I really appreciate it can be difficult to accept criticism or get it. Chief Wylam, I understand it's not nice to read a critical report. It's a tough pill to swallow. But the reason that these reviews are done is to provoke a reaction. It's the whole point of the exercise... not to sugarcoat everything and produce a vanilla report. That doesn't help anybody. You asked us to look under every single stone, and we did our very best to do that. And it's tough. I get it. It's an expose'. And what I expect is a reaction, a positive reaction, not a fight or trying to twist this into an "us versus them" situation. We're all in this together. It's a collaborative effort. we've debated the findings extensively. But it's what comes next that really matters. The process to identify the disconnect between staff and management. And the majority of members expressed that the department would benefit from some external experience with no personal affiliation to the city of Apopka. We are regularly hired to implement recommendations. I'm here today. I am willing, able, and ready to do that for this city. The staff of every rank, and I mean every rank, have said they liked the idea of change management. And it seems very clear that it would satisfy all sides and allow us to move forward collectively. This isn't about usurping people or taking over. It's an opportunity for some professional collaboration and sharing of global experience that will help reform and improve this department. I don't know what else can be said. I think everybody wants to change. I think the fire department needs to change. And we need to work together to implement that change. It's not for me to recommend any management changes. It'll be unprofessional and incorrect to do that, but I'm here, and I'm ready to help. If you accept that help, I'll dedicate everything I've got to this city in this fire department."

At the meeting's end, and after an extensive debate, the Council voted unanimously to start the procurement process to hire Gannon Emergency Services as a consultant to the AFD. Yes, it's a step in the right direction, but is it enough?

I know it must feel like it's only your political opponents who are calling for you to make a change at the Apopka Fire Department but look a little further, Mayor Nelson. It's the vast majority of the AFD rank-and-file firefighters. It's your city commissioners. It's outside media. It's Apopka residents both on social media and in public comments.

Yes, Chief Wylam has a strategic plan he will announce on April 3rd, he has a list of accomplishments, and you are helping him with his communication skills. But unfortunately, the issue at the AFD goes far beyond those deficiencies. He's lost the trust of the firefighters and the residents of Apopka. The drumbeat keeps getting louder.

For the sake of the city, Mayor Nelson, make a change. No one wants to experience a meeting like that again.

Apopka, Apopka Fire Department, Apopka City Council, Opinion, Gannon Emergency Solutions


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  • MamaMia

    The city council meetings are being turned into a circus big show. They are out of control! A public comment by one, told of his grandfather's lecture about a boy pooping in his pants at church, and that even though he washed his butt, and washed his pants, the churchgoers weren't forgetting the incident ever. OMG, grandpa may have told you this little story, or life lecture, but I am certain grandpa did not intend for you to share that info with the public at a city council meeting! I did not want to hear that! People are pushing the limits in their comments. I have listened as people have accused the mayor of killing Austin. I have heard the fire chief, accused of killing Austin, and even the city attorney, accused of killing Austin. You all need to stop these accusations! Austin died in a tragic accident. No one killed Austin. IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! While I feel very sorry for the Duran family, and understand their hurt, and their wanting to be with Austin, and see him again, and hug him, they know that they can't do that, at least, in this lifetime. It is so hurtful and sad. I get it. Anyone who has lost a loved one understands. Life is painful, and while you will never get over Austin, it takes a long time to start healing. A long, long, time and the darkness you feel in your hearts will begin to lighten one day, even though you don't believe that is possible. I pray for your family, and wish for your hearts to be healed. I pray for a miracle. Again, I am so sorry. We know you all loved Austin so very much.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • DennisNew

    Well unlike MamaMia who hides behind a fake name, I am the one who told that story and it fits. the point being some mistakes are never forgotten. The lack of safety, the lack of training the lack of supervision directly led to this young mans death. Yes you can call it an accident, but it was preventable. Firefighters go to work every day and realize that something may happen and cost them life or limb, but it should have never been a unsafe trailer placed back into service with no training. Those actions are what caused this death, directly attributed to the failures of the man in charge, Mr. Wylam. Hired by the mayor under questionable circumstances when they created a false story about embezzlement of EMS funds to get ride of the last chief. Would this accident of happened under him, well most likely not, because he had removed the trailer from service. These meetings are out of control because the Mayor is grossly incompetent. It has been the Mayors mismanagement or lack of leadership that has led to this whole continued nightmare.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MelissaW

    It is so sad that this tragedy is forced to continue being dragged out, because the Duran family should have received at least some peace by now. Eight months have passed since Austin has died, and we’re only NOW getting a “strategy” by Chief Wylam? Actually… not now. Next month. This is unacceptable. The chief has had more than enough time to try to be the chief his department needed him to be—I think enough is enough and he needs to resign or get demoted. Like one of the speakers said in the chamber, “I’m not here to take food away from his family’s table” (not verbatim). I think this administration has been far too accommodating to Mr. Wylam’s incompetence and must step in to truly show the citizens and, most importantly, our firefighters that the situation WILL be dealt with. It should have been dealt with months ago. The Duran family deserves peace.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Dennis, I am not hiding behind a fake name. I have been using this name a very long time here on the Apopka Voice, even when Dale Fenwick had the Apopka Voice. The people like the city commissioners, the mayor, our Orange County Commissioner, AC, and a very large amount of people know my identity. I am not hiding. People have called me by my first name on this website, like they think it is getting back at me or something, or sit there typing accusing me of being the mayor's kin, or even his son. It is ridiculous, but amusing. You don't remember me, but I went to school with you at Apopka Memorial High School. I think we are about the same age, so Dennis, you are not getting any younger, like myself. You have too much anger and hate in your heart Dennis. Please give all this hate a rest. Nothing is being accomplished by getting before the city council spewing hate. I had to tell you this, I expect you to vent at me, but I'll be fine. I have always wanted people to have free speech, but IMO the **** in the boy's pants story was too too much for a public city council meeting

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Also, I do not find it appropriate for a city commissioner to sit up there, and question a department head publicly, on whether or not, he would consider quitting. This was Commissioner Nick Nesta feeling out the fire chief about where he stood on quitting. The fire chief responded he is not a quitter. It was the appropriate response IMO. Commissioner Nesta was the one not long ago, that stated he was embarrassed to be called a city commissioner. Regarding the fire chief, he has been criticized for showing no emotion. In many cultures, it is considered a strength for a male to show no emotions. Say what you want, but this my opinion

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • DennisNew

    Well Mamamia, I did go to Apopka High School, but Apopka Memorial was closed my 9th grade year. So must be another new. As for remembering you, I did not attend school with anyone named Mamamia, as for others know who you are that is up to them. You say I have hate in my heart and nothing could be further from the truth, I have a 3rd generation love for this city, was at one time an employee of this city in the fire department. Your perception of hate is my anger towards Bryan Nelson who I was in school with a couple years behind but have known him and his family since grade school. Politics has changed him, his reckless abandon and poor leadership have led this city down the wrong path. His only concern is keeping money at a low interest rate in his political buddies bank. Ask why so many city owned properties are not up to code, ask why these problems went unchecked at the fire department from the time of his election until now? Ask why he has never followed through with the transparency promised about the missing EMS funds, Ask why he lied about taking half salary then boosted it 2'xs. Ask why he snuck in a 8k raise last budget buried in the total budget, Ask why he allowed the City Manager to give Wylam a PERFECT performance rating with the department in the shape it is and the death of a firefighter? To Many questions without proper answers, his solution to everything is the word Nothing, he will do nothing. Ask why the city payroll funding has gone down over 300K this year? did the hard working employees not deserve any raise, have spots where people left not been filled? Ask why Camp Wewa is not open to the public? Ask why the camp is not ADA compliant? So it's not hate, it's anger as I watch the City I love being destroyed by his poor leadership. His claims that the last mayor had depleted the reserves was also a lie as proven by audit, I did not agree with lots of things the last mayor did as well, but at least he did not tear this city apart and allow the fire department to fall into such poor condition. As for the man you keep calling Chief, that is a abuse of the title. As I said a Chief is a leader, this clown is not now nor can he be saved by Nelson's hiring him a communications coach, No amount of money can reverse what's been done, only change and that should have already occurred. The simple facts that training safety and poor supervision led to young Mr. Durans death would have made every Chief I ever worked for accept responsibility and resign.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Well Dennis, I was Tenita Jones in high school at Apopka Memorial High. I think you are the Dennis New that was in art classes with me, but I am not certain. The Dennis New I was in school with, was really good at art. I never was too great at a lot of things, but art. My only fame was being awarded the art award for the year by Ms. Knowles. I loved art, and took it all four years in high school. I had Mrs. Kelton, Ms. Knowles, and Ms.Belton. The Dennis New I knew had several brothers. I moved to Apopka when I was 14 and a half, in June of 1970. In the fall, of 1970, I attended ninth grade, at Apopka Memorial High, and graduated in 1974. I don't remember Bryan Nelson in school with me, although I know he went to school there, but he is a little younger than me. So are you saying you are younger than Bryan, Dennis? Just trying to figure out if I did go to school with you? Or another Dennis New. I am sorry if I confused your anger with hate. I apologize to you Dennis

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • JimNisbet

    I'm sorry I missed the meeting. However based on the article and comments it sounds like everyone is still hooked on politicizing this. Can anyone tell me if any of my previous questions got answered? Cut and paste below for reference. Also is this report public so I can read it somewhere?

    "For example, based on what I've read the sand truck was universally deemed unsafe to use or maintain. Where are the vehicle maintenance records on this? Who was the supervisor charged with the condition of this vehicle? Was the Chief provided this information by the people charged with using and maintaining this vehicle? Why was this vehicle not removed from service? What are the unions standards with regards to operating unsafe equipment? Or equipment you lack training to operate? At what point can a union member say "That's not safe to do and I'm not doing it," and why didn't that happen? Who is responsible for that CRITICAL training? When to say no? Again, I'm not trying to blame you or anyone else. But we need to understand a problem to fix a problem right? These are hard questions, but they need answers."

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • Richard

    Once again the word politics comes up. I’m sure Austin Duran did not care about politics when he was killed from negligence in training. I’m sure the men and women that want to do nothing but serve this community as a first responder don’t care about politics. They just want to have someone have their back and communicate with them, provide them with the proper staffing, provide a safe work environment, and fight for them no matter who the mayor is. How about we use the word ACCOUNTABILITY

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • DennisNew

    Well as I thought, you have the wrong New, You went to school with Donald New who graduated in 1974 and yes was very good in art, as a matter of fact he is now a tenured professor in Ca. teach art, architecture and design. While we are brothers, we are as opposite and night and day. I spent 35 years in the fire service part of it at Apopka, I did not graduate until 1979 so it was not me that attended school with you. Sorry.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I have been reading Apopka Critic. He is informing the Apopka City Commissioners to vote no on any developments coming in on the council agenda, and why? To get back at the mayor for not ousting the fire chief! OMG, what poor poor advice. First of all, I believe they all are smarter than that, but in case, I am wrong about them, let me say what might happen. You all would have to have a legitimate reason for turning down an incoming development, or else you all will land in court, and have to answer why you disapproved the developments, and the developers can sue. You cannot vote no on a development, because you are irked at the mayor. Also, I want to remind the City Commissioners, if Governor Ron DeSantis were to get wind of this plot, if it happens, the governor could remove you all from office! Don't think he wouldn't! I hope Apopka Critic wrote this in jest, out of his frustration, and hope he wasn't serious. You commissioners would also be affecting peoples' property rights, if you did follow the Apopka Critic's advice of voting no, on all incoming developments at the next council meetings to come.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Dennis,. I am so glad you cleared this issue up for me. It was Donald New that was in school with me. It has been so long, 49 years, since I graduated, and I guess somewhere in my mind I thought it was you, Dennis New, who I went to school with me. Now his name, Donald, comes back to me. Wow, a small world we live in. Thanks for answering. Have a good day, Dennis.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    If things around this city couldn't get more crazy, I read a posting where the church alliance, which is the Apopka Ministerial Alliance was referred to as the Menstrual Alliance...omg.....You all got me hurting from laughing about that one!

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I listened to the public comment from the man who fusses about the crowding at the schools, at the city council meetings. He doesn't like portables. He mentioned them at the March 15 council meeting. I wonder if he has seen the four new portables that AHS have moved in just this week. I think it was either Wednesday, or on Thursday. I had seen a bunch of concrete pieces out there on the grounds. Just glancing at them driving by, I thought they were parking lot car stoppers for the parking spots. No, they were to anchor down the new portables, that are now in front of the school. They placed them out there on the grounds where the ROTC students march around. I hope Mr. Olsen doesn't go postal, when he sees those portables. Hope I got his name spelled correctly.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Mr Hoffman from RSR, He is so right about the gun violence, and the loose gun laws being sought by the Florida governor, and Florida legislators. I hope he does talk with our state representative, Doug Bankson, about those lax gun laws. Will he make a impression on Bankson, to change his mind and vote? As far as I know, the bill has not been passed yet, but I could be wrong. Mr. Hoffman can speak with the city council to try to get some kind of local gun ordinance passed in Apopka, but DeSantis has threatened to remove any local government official for voting in such gun control laws. The city council members are very aware of that fact. It ties their hands. I am with Mr. Hoffman on that issue though, yes, I am. Things need to change regarding guns, and access to them.

    Friday, March 17 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I heard a discussion between two gentlemen questioning whether the city does drug testing to city employees. These gentlemen were not sure whether the city does drug and alcohol testing. They, with their wild imaginations, and the people who they are against at the city, think one or more employees at the city, are under the influence of a substance, meaning drugs or alcohol. I can answer their question about the city doing drug testing to their employees....yes, the city does do drug and alcohol testiing of their employees. It is done at random times, and random groups of employees are tested at different times. That was the policy in the past, and I would think that is how it is now. So I would hope you won't show up with your empty urine sample cups at the next city council meeting, as you two discussed.....geeze!

    5 days ago Report this

  • MamaMia

    I want to wish Linda Laurendeau a very happy retirement from the Apopka Planning Commission after eight years. Congratulations Linda! Time for you to get some rest girl! I don't know how you have kept that busy schedule up with all your community involvement. You are a mover and shaker, no doubt. I am so sorry that that COVID booster shot caused you health problems. It affects people differently. I hope you are doing better. That is scary to say the least. Once again, best wishes.....I will miss you on the planning commission.

    5 days ago Report this

  • MamaMia

    I am so looking forward to the Greatest Show On Earth. I will be ready, and sitting here at home, in wait. I will have some cold beer, and a nice big bowl of hot buttered popcorn, and have the TV on Tuesday, for the arrest of former POTUS, Donald Trump. I still won't believe it, until I see it, but like it or not, I will celebrate! History in the making, you know......LOL

    4 days ago Report this