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Fire Rescue Advisory Board member weighs in on Chief Collins' resignation

Posted at 7:52 PM, Jan 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-19 05:37:22-05

The Contact 5 investigators are continuing to dig into the shake-up at the top of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. 

Chief Administrator Jeff Collins resigned earlier this week. A series of Contact 5 reports revealed sexual harassment and discrimination complaints within the department while Collins was in charge. 

Sources tells Contact 5 County Administrator Verdenia Baker was not happy with the way Collins handled the complaints, and asked him to resign. Baker has told Contact 5 before, she has zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the County. 

On Thursday, the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Advisory Board held their regularly scheduled meeting. The board was supposed to be joined in that meeting, by Interim Chief Administrator Michael Mackey. Mackey took over when Collins resigned last Friday. But when we showed up to the meeting, a fire rescue official suddenly told Contact 5, Mackey was "unavailable."

The Fire Rescue Advisory Board is appointed by county commissioners. The board helps approve the budget for Fire Rescue, among other things, as well as gives the department, citizen input.  

Board members have no control over personnel matters, or say in them, but one board member, Jay Littman, felt compelled to speak to us about Chief Collins, speaking only for himself, not the board. 

"It should be said, one situation, although it’s a very very terrible situation should not mean the end of a distinguished career," said Littman. 

But Littman again stressed he was speaking only about Collins the man and could not speak about his handling of the department and the complaints of sexual harassment.

WPTV reported in December, Captain Amanda Vomero was suing the county, and department, for claims she endured sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation on a regular basis.

According to Vomero, Chief Chris Hoch "would make her the brunt of most of his jokes," in management meetings. Vomero claims Hoch then began making comments about how tight her pants were. She says when she went to Chief Administrator Jeff Collins for help, he told her she "blowing it out of proportion, and that it was just "good humor, firehouse fun."

Shortly after that, Vomero says  the chief began to spread a rumor, saying Vomero was in a relationship with a district chief. 

The Palm Beach County Human Resource Department performed an investigation into Vomero's claims, and found “sexually oriented rumors are commonplace within the county’s fire rescue department,” with high ranking officers the ones responsible for circulating the rumors.

HR investigators also  found there was "sufficient information to conclude that an offensive work environment exists within Fire Rescue.” The report went on to say, "there was apparent acceptance within the department of such behavior,” saying “all of the substantiated discriminatory and retaliatory behavior occurred within the administrative office suite and involved high ranking administration officers.”

That same county report shows Hoch admitted to spreading the sexual based rumors about Vomero. Hoch was given a written reprimand. 

Contact 5 found three more lawsuits, alleging harassment, discrimination and retaliation, under Collins' watch. 

WPTV-TV learned Thursday, Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker sent an email to all of Fire Rescue, stressing that the department is not in chaos, and that Interim Chief Mackey is taking the department in the right direction.

Fire Rescue's union president told Contact 5 Wednesday, he anticipates Baker will make more changes in leadership. 

Contact 5 will continue to follow this story.

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