"The biggest thing I want to separate out is the difference between an investigation and a post-incident critique. Answers for the investigation are to come. We've had one answer already with the State Fire Marshals report that came out. We've been told by NIOSH it's going to be anywhere from six to eight months. Gannon Services, that we're utilizing - anywhere from one to two months from now. Everything that we've learned thus far, we're making changes. We are making a lot of positive changes. So it's hard to know the exact timeline with things like NIOSH because it takes time."
That was Apopka Fire Chief Sean Wylam responding to questions at the January 4th Apopka City Council meeting. And as it turns out, Gannon Emergency Solutions (GES) has released its report - a 45-page document titled "Draft for Client Review" obtained by The Apopka Voice in a public records request from the City.
The independent report from GES was requested and paid for by the City to evaluate the entire department. It is critical of the AFD in multiple areas, but contested in many sections by the City and AFD Staff under editor's notes.
According to its website, GES has evaluated and assisted fire departments in over 40 countries using a proven method based on a humanistic approach.
"We focus on asking questions to understand the organizational issues, assess the department against standards and best practices, and look at risk, liability, and compliance based on the project team’s expertise.
Every organization has blind spots, issues, and developmental concerns and can benefit from an outside assessment from time to time. Often, too much time is spent looking at data rather than a department as a whole. Public service jobs are driven by the people involved; commonly, it just takes a new set of eyes and some honest, open communication to foster productive change."
But by any objective standard, the report is a withering critique of the AFD.
In Gannon's Executive Summary, they state:
The city of Apopka and its fire department have been under intense scrutiny since the tragic incident involving Firefighter Austin Duran and his subsequent death on July 15th, 2022. While the State Fire Marshal and NIOSH are conducting separate, specific investigations, GES was hired to examine the status of health and safety compliance within the department along with its overall organizational condition.
It is accepted that a firefighter's role will expose them to danger and unpredictable responding to emergencies in the field, but not at a fire station where workplace safety should be exemplary.
City leaders, fire department staff, the Duran family, and the community all want to see a thorough review of the circumstances and a progressive reaction to the findings. The outcomes of this report and the legacy should be a strategic plan and a process of change that puts in place measures to prevent something like this from happening again.
As a direct result of the incident, the approval and appointment of a new Division Chief of Training, Division Chief of Life Safety, and an EMS Quality Assurance (QA) Specialist, as well as the immediate recruitment of 18 new firefighters. These are positive, immediate steps, however, the GES review process identified deeper foundational deficiencies that the department also needs to address."
Under the Recommendations Section GES states:
The major issues with Health and Safety at the AFD can be summarized as follows:
1. Years of neglected safety and health programs or attention towards safety and health.
2. Lack of a dedicated and experienced safety professional to ensure compliance with basic safety requirements citywide.
3. Young, inexperienced department with an average staff tenure of three years, according to the information provided.
5. Lack of Strategic Planning.
6. Lack of Accountability
The City and AFD pushed back on the report in several sections with notes inside the draft report.
In the executive report, the City replied:
The comment in this statement [about workplace safety] is not supported by any factual data in the remainder of this report.
The AFD Staff added - Comments subjective, only negative comments published. It also pointed out that the Q/A specialist predates study/accident has been completed.
In the recommendations section, the City replied:
Recommendation 1: This term is not properly defined in the report. GES must either define this term or explain the prior use of this word in other reports to other municipalities.
Recommendation 3: Beyond the scope of the review. A review of other city departments was not within the scope of the review of AFD. This has been addressed to GES.
Recommendation 4: Based on conversations with GES, this statement has to be placed in the proper context since this issue is the current nature industry wide.
Recommendation 5: GES lists this as an “issue” however fails to elaborate or provide factual examples of such. This statement must include a factual basis or must be deleted as conclusory without factual support.
The AFD also added:
Recommendation 1: What was used to reference years?
Recommendation 3: What was used to determine years of service/experience? Actual average is 8.19 years.
Recommendation 5: Focus on historical i.e. AFD historically has never had a strategic plan.
This developing story will be updated and continued in future articles in The Apopka Voice.