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Duran's emotional and powerful remarks call Apopka Fire Department's "perfect" performance reviews into question

Fire Chief Wylam and District Chief Howe score 60 out of 60 despite a fatal accident occurring on the job


It has been almost ten months since the devastating death of Apopka firefighter Austin Duran, and his father is still seeking justice and accountability from the City.  

The 25-year-old Apopka firefighter passed away in July 2022 after being injured while trying to move a sand trailer at work. Following an independent report into the department's management process, it was found that the accident may have resulted, in part, from the department's lack of training.

Duran was never trained on the use of the sand trailer.

During a powerful and emotional speech at the June 7th Apopka City Council meeting, Michael Duran, the father of the deceased, called out Apopka Fire Department Chief Sean Wylam and Division Chief John Howe for inaccurate performance reviews and urged the city administrator to weigh in on a decision to relieve Wylam from duty. 

Both Wylam and Howe were given perfect 60-out-of-60 scores on their annual performance reviews.

"You cannot tell me that this department did perfect. You cannot tell me that there was nothing they could've done different, nothing that they could've done better," said Duran. "My son died on Chief Wylam's watch. He is responsible for what goes on in that department and what doesn't go on." 

Michael Duran delivers critical remarks about the Apopka Fire Department during public comments at the June 7th City Council meeting.
Michael Duran delivers critical remarks about the Apopka Fire Department during public comments at the June 7th City Council meeting.

Duran said that claims made by Wylam about Howe's "perfect performance review" during the same time frame of his son's death, such as being willing to assist other staff, emphasizing safety in all aspects of his job, and consistently looking to improve the department, are all lies. 

 "Where was this before June 30th?" Duran asked.

Earlier in the meeting, Wylam gave a safety and training update. He shared the completion of apparatus inspections and a policy change for brush trucks that eliminates external riders. 

"For our brush trucks, we had actual areas outside where members would ride and extinguish the fire. At this point, we have no external riders moving forward," said Wylam. 

Chief Wylam also said that the department ordered a Quantifit2, the latest mask fit-testing machine. 

"On an annual basis, each firefighter has to bring their issued self-containing breathing apparatus mask and actually go through a process with this machine that quantifies and qualifies that their mask fits and seals properly," said Wylam.  

However, Duran believes that the updates provided by Wylam are items that should have been completed already. 

"It's not that these things don't need to be done. These are kind of items that should already been done," said Duran. "It is absolutely disgusting that a fire department has 1,300 things to address, and this fire chief decides to start with replacing bungee cords on the back of trucks to hold some hoses down." 

Duran has not been the only one vocal about his opposition to AFD leadership. Earlier this year, during the April 5th Apopka City Council meeting, the president of the firefighter's union, Alex Klepper, suggested a change in the fire department's management team during his four-phase plan to improve the AFD. 

"We have a fire chief who has shown extreme difficulty with communication, planning, execution, and listening to the needs of his department," said Klepper. "Those are the top things you should have in that role." 

In February 2023, the Apopka Professional Firefighters Association voted 73-13 in favor of expressing no confidence in Wylam.

The City Council followed suit in its own no-confidence vote on Wylam in April. The motion was called for by Commissioner Kyle Becker and supported by Commissioner Nick Nesta and Commissioner Diane Velazquez, while Mayor Bryan Nelson and Commissioner Alexander Smith voted against it. 

As part of the City's attempt to ensure back the public's trust, Becker shared the proposal for a project manager to oversee the implementation of changes to come that will promote a safe, healthy, and motivated department. 

"It's a start here because I think it creates an environment where people can start to have 100 percent confidence that there is a true neutral party that is overseeing this," said Becker. 

The project manager's responsibilities will include creating execution plans, schedules, tracking the implementation of the recommendations, and facilitating the creation of strategic and succession planning.  

Commissioner Velazquez motioned the proposal, which was carried unanimously with a 4-0 vote. Smith was not in attendance at the meeting.

Apopka Fire Department, Apopka, Apopka City Council, Michael Duran, Sand Trailer


7 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • wheresthepopcorn

    I am surprised there are no comments on this, I agree with Mr. Duran...How could he have possibly gotten a prefect review? We can't go back and change it though. Let's hope moving forward there are some changes. They are trying.

    Friday, June 9, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Wheresthepopcorn,. There were 2 comments early this morning on this article, when I turned it on. I was not one of the two who posted, but both of their comments were apparently removed, because they are gone.

    Friday, June 9, 2023 Report this

  • Richard

    Wylam and how should be terminated. They failed Austin period. I do not want these people making any decisions regarding public safety. Nelson actually said it . Quote “ that sand trailer never should have been put back in service “ If he does not hold them accountable, he is just as much to blame.

    Friday, June 9, 2023 Report this

  • MDuran

    @popcorn- I respectfully disagree. They are not trying. Each person that was directly responsible for the training and safety of my son, getting 60/60 PERFECT review scores proves that to me. Wylam is the only director in the city required to give a monthly update because the commission does not trust him either. And the updates that he delivers is benign. My son was killed due to zero training. Zero safety. Zero supervision AT the fire station, working on fire department equipment that he had never even seen. And this failed fire chief thinks the important monthly updates are bungee cords, fire extinguisher tags and new stainless steel kitchen cabinets. That’s what’s important to address my sons senseless death ?

    I agree with Richard. Both Howe and Wylam should be fired. Days after we buried my son in the ground, I went to the station. Not knowing who Howe was at that time, even HE told me “I’ll probably lose my job for this” There was another firefighter present (I will not name) that witnessed this. Days after we buried my son, Howe was only worried about his job.

    No sir. They are only trying to save themselves. They didn’t and still don’t give a second thought for my son. One of their OWN firefighters. 2 weak men of NO HONOR !!

    This new RFP will bring trust. Leadership. Proper management. Safety, and a broken department back together. Wylam and Howe are broken chiefs. They can not be saved at this point.

    Friday, June 9, 2023 Report this

  • MDuran

    @Richard- I can not agree more with your statement.

    Friday, June 9, 2023 Report this

  • wheresthepopcorn

    @mduran the rfp means they are trying is what I am saying. I am not Becker’s biggest fan but I think he is doing what he can in this horrible situation.

    Sunday, June 11, 2023 Report this

  • MDuran

    @Popcorn- Yes sir. I misunderstood what you were getting at. I agree, the commissioners have worked very hard to bring improvements to the AFD and I am grateful for that. I hope we are nearing to strong leadership and management within the fire department. I believe our men and women of the AFD deserve to be safeguarded at the very least. It IS a matter of life and death.



    Sunday, June 11, 2023 Report this