Fire Chief Personal Problems Affecting DepartmentNewly obtained Saugatuck Township Fire Department documents - including a six-month performance evaluation of Fire Chief Brian Florey in July 2012 - reveal both positive and negative sides of the embattled first-time chief who has only recently completed his first year on the job.
Many of the documents were obtained by The Local Observer through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and also from fire department personnel, the township and others.
Florey, and township fire department operations, are under a sweeping investigation by newly appointed members of the Saugatuck Township Fire Board - Saugatuck Councilwoman Jane Verplank and Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich.
The Fire Board leaders are delving into reports that include allegations of improper and unprofessional conduct by Florey, poor oversight of fire department operations by the Fire Board, myriad financial and operational problems, and more.
Florey’s performance review, conducted by the Fire Board in July 2012, included findings and comments by Fire Board members along with written reviews of the chief provided by fire department officers.
On the positive side, the documents reveal that both his bosses and members of his officer’s staff feel Florey is a competent, energetic and professional firefighter who is trying to develop - and implement - new ideas at the department.
But those same documents also reveal a disturbing and wide-ranging series of complaints against Florey by members of his own department - including current and former officers - that include reports of:
* public drunkeness
* personal use of township vehicles in violation of department policies
* anger issues with fire department personnel
* unexplained abscences and/or time away from the department
* lack of administrative know-how, experience and ability
* “personal problems” brought into the department that affect his work, communication with staff, and overall ability to run the fire department
* an extraordinary amout of time spent on personal cell phone calls and texting to the point it has affected department operations and work product
* favortism shown to certain fire department personnel that has caused poor morale among other personnel
* lack of follow-through when it comes to seeing that operational orders are carried out
* and avoids dealing with some problems, especially when it comes to dsiciplinary action against fire department personnel
For example, then-Fire Department officer Mike Blok wrote in his review of Florey:
“I think Brian has a lot of personal problems that he brings to work. Last weekend he was out and was drunk Friday night. I had a Saugatuck police officer come to me Saturday and tell me that.”
A Saugatuck police officer, who asked to remain anonymous saying he was not authorized to speak publicly about Florey, said he had received “several” reports about Florey being publicly intoxicated and “making inappropriate advances to women in local bars.”
A current government official who asked to remain unnamed, also confirmed to being a first-hand eyewitness to Florey being intoxicated at Wally’s Bar & Grill on one occasion and “being obnoxious with several women.”
In another report, firefighter Chris Mantels wrote in his review of Florey:
“Brian is very skilled as both a firefighter and (medical first responder). He understands greatly how fire science works.”
However, “There have been several disciplinary problems that Brian ‘blows off’ because he does not know how to handle them.”
Fire Inspector Lori Nash, in her review of Florey, wrote:
“(Florey) does have anger issues when trying to communicate when in an area over his experience level.
“(Florey) spends too much time - spends hours - talking and texting” rather than dealing with needed departmental issues…and the department is often run as more of a club than a business.”
In discussing Florey’s bringing innovation to the deparment, Nash wrote: “(He) has some good ideas - but again, no follow through.”
When it comes to delegating assignments, Florey “can delegate, but (there is) no consistency. Things are haphazard and change hour by hour.”
Most of the current fire department personnel interviewed by The Local Observer during the past several weeks said that while Florey can be a nice person when he is not drinking or under pressure, he has little to no administrative abilities, and as such, the department’s morale, as summed up by one officer, “is horrendous at this time.”
Former Fire Board Chairman Bill Kaye, when asked this week about Florey’s six-month performance review that he helped conduct, said he believes the chief has “very solid technical knowledge of being a firefighter,” but says he cannot defend him when it comes to reports of poor judgement calls, such as when he uses the township vehicle to take his girlfriend and children for personal rides or allows them to be at the fire department for personal visits.
Noting some problematic issues with Florey when he was first hired, Kaye wrote in the review: “I have seen improvement, as visible to myself and to the (Fire Board).”
Kaye gave Florey a total score of 24.5 - “meets expectations” - on his performance review out of a possible 40 points.
Florey told The Local Observer he realizes “I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m willing to work to improve as a fire chief.”
But in several public settings, Florey has blamed the media for his troubles along with “some disgruntled former and current fire department personnel” who he said “apparently are out to get me.”