A tense exchange took place Wednesday evening in Apopka between several city commissioners and the city’s fire chief in the wake of the death of an Apopka firefighter.
During a budget discussion, Fire Chief Sean Wylam told Apopka’s city commission he is unaware of any concerns within the department related to safety and training.
“I’m blindsided,” Chief Wylam said. “I’m being told everything is kosher. It works, everything is kosher. I have to assume what I’m being told by my staff because I’m busy too you know, I rely on these people to give me the right information.”
The meeting was the first since the passing of 25-year-old Apopka firefighter Austin Duran.
Several commissioners refuted Wylam’s claim no employees have expressed concerns to him. Two of the commissioners went on to express frustration Wylam walked out of their chamber on Monday, moments before dozens of firefighters were about to address their concerns.
“They were all very distraught. They were angry. They were sad and you left. You didn’t get to hear them. We did,” said Commissioner Diane Velazquez.
“I was really disappointed on Monday when you stepped out when we had a whole line of your men here,” added Commissioner Nick Nesta.
Austin Duran, 25, died weeks after he was injured on the job in late June. At the time, Apopka’s fire chief told News 6 he was pinned down by a sand trailer he was trying to move.
“Things need to be re-evaluated. They need to be re-evaluated now,” said Kyle Lampp, vice president of the Apopka Professional Firefighters Association.
Lampp calls Duran’s death tragic and eye-opening. It’s a statement that was also shared by the union president, Alex Klepper, Monday night when he addressed the mayor and city commissioners at a budget workshop.
“It’s been a month since Austin’s accident opened all of our eyes,” said Klepper. “Absolutely nothing has been done to fix the environment and operational weaknesses that led to it.”
Union representatives are asking city leaders to take action. They suggest adding a dedicated training officer and a health and safety officer.
“Just to bring safety to the forefront of the department and make sure our people are being properly trained,” said Lampp. “We don’t want to be reactive; we want to be proactive. I think that’s where we’re trying to get to.”
According to the union, 50% of the department has 5 years or less experience on the job. They hope added oversight will prevent future tragedies.
“We’ve got to recognize that systems can fail or at the very least when they become stagnant, they need to be reassessed and reevaluated,” Klepper told the council.
The union issued a letter detailing their concerns.
Wylam said he had only seen the letter on social media, adding he did not personally receive any correspondence from the group regarding his staff’s concerns.
“It hurts when I’m accused of not caring or not wanting to move us forward because that is absolutely false,” Wylam said.
The city of Apopka said the new budget includes enough money to add about six positions to the fire department. The commission made it clear to Wylam more positions related to safety and training can be added.
The circumstances surrounding Duran’s death remain under investigation by the Apopka Police Department. News 6 reached out to a spokesperson for the department Wednesday who said their work is ongoing.