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The Gannon Report: Part Two

Firefighters' comments describe a range of dysfunction inside the Apopka Fire Department


On January 16th, Gannon Emergency Solutions (GES) delivered its draft report on the state of the Apopka Fire Department to Chief Sean Wylam. A couple of weeks later, it was made public, but only after 145 edit marks were added by the "City and AFD Staff" to the report.

It was a comprehensive 45-page draft that described the AFD in critical terms such as:

  • Neglecting safety or health programs or attention towards safety and health.
  • Lacking a dedicated and experienced safety professional to ensure compliance with basic safety requirements citywide.

  • According to the information provided, a young, inexperienced department with an average staff tenure of three years.

  • An incomplete and overloaded organizational structure.

  • A lack of Strategic Planning.

  • A lack of accountability

Both the 45-page draft report and the 27-page response to the AFD and City Staff comments were comprehensive, pragmatic, and well-researched opinions, but perhaps the most damning critique was from its own firefighters.

From pages 12-17 in the draft report, 39 firefighters speak anonymously about the AFD in terms more critical than the report in many cases. That's over 30% of the 126 firefighters on the AFD.

"There is fear of retribution from management toward staff who speak out against practices and decisions," Gannon writes. "Many members were afraid to contribute to this review, and those that did need assurance that comments would not be attributed to them."

Edits marked as "Fire Staff" had issues with the allegations of the firefighters.

"Again, these are serious accusations that AFD takes seriously and ones we would NEVER ignore," The Fire Staff wrote in the edits. "We have never received a complaint regarding this statement. Even with rumors of such, we have developed a mentorship program to encourage everyone to say something if they see something. A form was created even to allow every member to "say something if they see something."

City Staff also pushed back on the use of these anonymous quotes.

"The use of unattributed and unsubstantiated claims by interviewees without proper context needs to be re-examined," City Staff wrote. "The City would advise against providing statements that were done under the guise of anonymity to be then used in a public record. The City questions whether the interviewees were properly advised that their statements have now become a written public record which could be eventually attributable to them."

Editor's Note: The Apopka Voice received the 45-page Gannon draft report and the 27-page Gannon response through a public records request, and while it confirmed that firefighters did speak to Gannon on the condition of anonymity, it has no intention of learning the identities of the firefighters or disclosing them in the article or any future articles.

Gannon also responded to the City's concerns over confidentiality.

"The AFD advised and encouraged members to contact GES ‘in confidence.’ This was confirmed by AFD Lieutenant and President of the Apopka Professional Firefighters Association Alex Klepper at the February 1, 2023, City Council meeting during his public comment. He stated the AFD members 'were encouraged on multiple occasions and offered overtime to meet with representatives from Gannon Emergency Solutions and were told their participation is an important part of this evaluation. It will give them a better understanding of our department and a plan for important next steps moving forward.' Member comments are a staple in our work, and the process was made very clear to the AFD without any objection until now."

The 39 comments from the AFD firefighters could be categorized into six areas of concern:

Vision/Direction/Strategic Plan

Those who commented believe the AFD lacks vision or any strategic plan.

“We have no clear vision for the department; information isn’t shared.”

“We need better connectivity between all divisions, so we all understand our direction.”

“What strategic plan? We don’t have one, do we? If we do, I’ve never seen it.”

“Admin struggles to do their daily jobs, so how is there time for them to plan properly?”


The administration and management were referenced the most out of the 39 comments posted by Gannon.

“Admin is seen as a ‘clique’ and a ‘buddy system’. Some can be clearly seen ‘hanging out together on days off on social media.”

“There is a serious disconnect between Admin and District Chiefs; we need to be more involved in planning or changes that can affect operations.” 

“It feels like our management is juggling multiple, blended roles and really don’t know what they are doing today, never mind in the future."

‘’The department needs a Deputy, or clear number two. Right now, the five guys in Admin figure things out in the Chief's absence.’’

‘’Not enough management ability to up-size the department to keep pace with community growth; we need some experience from the outside to come in.’’
“Too much diversity and workload for managers, they are out of their depth but refuse to admit it.

“Admin is seen as a ‘clique’ and a ‘buddy system’. Some can be clearly seen ‘hanging out together on days off on social media.”

“Management is targeting people who do not tow the line and find tenuous reasons to punish or dismiss them.”

“Admin says they have an open door policy, but we know if we are seen walking through that open door, we will be labeled and treated as troublemakers.”


It was no secret that safety and training have been a concern. AFD firefighters just confirmed with numerous comments about the needed sense of urgency. 

“Safety concerns have been known and ignored by our management for years.”

“The new Training Chief and Health & Safety officer were just plucked out of thin air.”

“A portable four-story training tower sits at the training center, and like the sand trailer, there have never been any acceptance tests done on it, no policy for its use, no maintenance, and no training. Another example of an accident waiting to happen.” GES note: this portable tower was on a trailer and out of service during the December site visit, scheduled for surplus."

“We are getting lucky at the moment; some of the things happening at scenes are frightening."

“Training standards are unacceptable and contributed to Austin’s death. We need a real training division, the newly appointed training Chief is inexperienced and lost.”

“Current training is particularly bad for the new recruits and will lead to confusion and possible injury. Need to go back to basics and start with foundational training from scratch to standardize.”
“Our trainers are not really trainers or following any set program. Most just make it up as they go along. Often we just watch a YouTube video and tick the box to say we received training. It’s a joke, really.” 

"I have taken the same course five times in recent years, all run by different trainers and all totally different. How the hell are we supposed to know what to do out there if people are interpreting and teaching things their own way.”

Safety concerns have been known and ignored by our management for years.”

“The new Training Chief and Health & Safety officer were just plucked out of thin air.”

Workplace Environment

When firefighters dread coming to work, there is a problem.

‘’Jump crewing [cross staffing] is a big concern for staff right now; it’s dangerous. With no pre-determined roles or seat assignments, it’s a lottery.’’

“There is 100% an ‘us versus them’ mentality in the AFD and a very negative workplace atmosphere causing people to leave, and some senior managers are guilty of creating it.”

“Some older members and managers think it’s ok to still use words and actions from 20 years ago that are now unacceptable, calling people from a younger generation ‘soft’ because they don’t like being abused is something that needs to stop.”

“I pull up to the station and have to take a deep breath before I go in now because it’s become depressing and just a paycheck.”


Most firefighters who commented about the AFD experience believe the department is too young and lacks leadership.

‘’It’s a very young department that continues to hire school seniors, and this results in limited life experience. We need to target and attract older applicants.’’

“We are a very young department, the average age of applicants is 19-21, and we need to tighten up our guidelines and practices to protect them.”

Need to be honest about their lack of experience. At the moment, it is the blind leading the blind.”

“Rookies leading ‘Rookiers’ is what our department is right now.”

“We are all upset about Austin, and it has been made worse by the attitudes, denials, and behaviors of our leadership. It’s not a nice place to be right now, and I don’t look forward to coming to work anymore.”

Standard Operating Guidelines

It's a common theme that SOGs are either out of date or rarely used. Several of the firefighters see it as an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Current SOGs are long-winded, outdated, and need a total overhaul. Definitely a contributory factor to Austin Duran’s accident.”

“Operational consistency is nonexistent; every shift does things their own way and some - dangerously.
"Apopka SCBA protocols are really bad, with no accountability. Better SOGs and training would improve."

“SOGs are part of the probationary training phase, but after that, you only refer to them if you need to. No one insists that you keep your knowledge current, and I haven’t looked at them for years.”

Austin Duran

The tragic death of Firefighter Austin Duran was referenced by several firefighters as a clear indication the AFD was lacking in areas of training and safety.

“The Chief and certain senior managers were not present enough during traumatic times, which damaged trust. At key moments our Chief let Austin, himself, and us down.”

“Our Chief and others got themselves perfect evaluations and a maximum raise in the worst year in our history. Taking it was an insult to Austin and his family.”

“No one in management has been written up or held accountable for Austin’s death while others get punished for minor issues.”

“Our Chief and others got themselves perfect evaluations and a maximum raise in the worst year in our history; taking it was an insult to Austin and his family.”

“The Chief and certain senior managers were not present enough during traumatic times, which damaged trust. At key moments our Chief let Austin, himself, and us down.”

“I love my job and was willing to go into the drop and work as long as I could. After the way Austin’s death has been handled, I’m counting down the time until I retire and can’t wait to get out.”
“There was conflict and disharmony before the accident. Austin’s death has just brought it all to the surface and shown us that we really need some serious help.”
Part Three: A picture is worth a thousand words - Gannon's photos of the AFD tell a story almost as vivid as its report.
Apopka, Apopka Fire Department, Gannon Emergency Solutions, Apopka City Council


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

  • MamaMia

    I think it's a shame there are people so vengeful against the city attorney, Mr. Rodriguez, and calling for his firing, because he attended a Miami high school, and supported their team against Apopka High in the football state championship, and Miami beat Apopka, not once, but twice, in both championships. I know football is extremely important to this city, but come on....you want to try to destroy the man?

    Saturday, February 18, 2023 Report this

  • Todd B.

    Once again it seem Tanita has fully read the article before commenting ??????? WOW

    Saturday, February 18, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Tanita has read the article Todd, FYI. The posting is IMO. You got a problem with it?

    Sunday, February 19, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I have been reading Apopka Critic website.....Critic, on your grading system of the city officials you list, 1-5, first off Critic, the City of Apopka does not have a city manager position. You are calling for residents to grade a position that doesn't exist. Edward Bass is the city administrator. Secondly, I see you didn't include the four city council members to be graded by the respondents. How could you leave them out, as they are a big part of the city's management. Get it right Critic!

    Sunday, February 19, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    No one, I repeat, no one is going to want to come to apply for employment, or run for election in this city, because of the cult that keeps on keeping on with their crap against the city administration. I do respect your rights to say what you want, but some of your comments are really outrageous. I will give you an example from public comments at the last city council meeting.. The city attorney was referred to being a curbside attorney, another called him an ambulance chasing attorney, think that was what he said, without going back and listening again, but anyway, that is wracked out thinking to me IMO, because Rodriguez is a municipal government attorney, not a auto wreck injury attorney working for the COA. Good golly Miss Molly, ya'll are crazy!

    Sunday, February 19, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Correction: wacked out thinking

    Sunday, February 19, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I used to be against districting, but as the city is really expanding, I think we do need districting. With 3 city councils members all living in RSR, I feel like the rest of the city residents are not getting properly represented.

    Sunday, February 19, 2023 Report this