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Orlando Fla--Fire Dept. Overhaul Leads to New Chief and Promotions

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  • captstanm1
    New Fire Marshal Appointed

    Orlando Sentinel

    New fire chief appoints head of inspections

    Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted June 4, 2003

    New Orlando Fire Chief Bob Bowman on Tuesday appointed a new fire marshal, the person responsible for building inspections and emergency evacuation plans in Orlando's night clubs, high-rises and other commercial buildings.

    Tammy Hughes, who has worked in Orlando's fire-safety management division for nine years, will replace Sonia Machen, who left the department about two weeks ago for a job in South Florida.

    Hughes said her first priorities will include repainting fire hydrants downtown to comply with the proper color-coding system, a problem pointed out in Mayor Buddy Dyer's transition team report. Most hydrants downtown are painted brown, but are supposed to be colored in such a way that firefighters can find them easily.

    She also said she is continuing a re-evaluation of the occupancy levels of downtown nightclubs in light of fatal tragedies in Rhode Island and Chicago clubs earlier this year caused by poorly labeled emergency exits and overcrowding.

    "Our process is every building should get an inspection once a year," Hughes said.

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  • Orlando Fla--Fire Dept. Overhaul Leads to New Chief and Promotions

    Orlando Sentinel

    Orlando overhaul leads to change in fire chiefs

    By Beth Kassab | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted June 3, 2003

    Orlando Fire Chief Charlie Walker retired Monday amid allegations of mismanagement, clearing the way for Mayor Buddy Dyer to hire former Chief Bob Bowman to replace him.

    Walker had been under pressure to retire for weeks as Dyer began to reorganize the city's top level administrators. Criticism about the Fire Department peaked with the release of the mayor's transition team report, which said the department was poorly led.

    Walker took issue with some of that criticism Monday night.

    "I don't think it was a fair assessment of the department because some of the things in there, to me, were unfounded," he said in a phone interview from his home, though he declined to go into specifics.

    After 32 years of service, Walker said, he was planning to retire sometime soon and decided "now is the right time."

    "The mayor wanted to put a new team in, and it's the right time for me to go," said Walker, who worked his way up through the ranks and was popular with most firefighters.

    The City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Bowman, who served as Orlando's fire chief from 1993-1996 before retiring after 25 years of service.

    Bowman said that after seven years of running his own business and working as a consultant, he is ready to be back full time despite the problems inside the department.

    The transition team report detailed a department with serious budget overruns as well as breakdowns in communication with the Orange County Fire RescueDepartment. Also, the report suggested the Fire Department was at risk of seeing its insurance rating lowered. If that happened, it could cost homeowners.

    "You always want challenges," Bowman said. "We've got to build upon the history in the Fire Department."

    Assistant chiefs Kathy Miller, one of the first female firefighters hired by Orlando in 1982, and Jim Reynolds, who has worked more than 18 years for the city, were promoted to deputy chiefs.

    Dyer said he chose Bowman because other top-ranking firefighters were "not quite ready to assume the role of fire chief" and he believes Bowman will help mentor future leaders inside the department.

    Walker's departure Monday was just part of a massive restructuring of city government that Dyer presented to the council.

    His plan calls for the mayor to have direct oversight over a nine-member Cabinet, including the budget director, city clerk and housing director among other posts, and eliminates the political role of the chief administrative officer.

    Some members of the public raised questions about the plan, asking the mayor during Monday's meeting if he should retain a vote on the council with so much consolidation of power inside his office. Another resident voiced outrage that former Administrative Services Director Becky Ares, who oversaw the city's budget, was forced to resign last week in the aftermath of the city's financial woes. Earlier this year, the budget was headed toward a $23.6 million deficit.

    "How do you decide to make her the scapegoat and give her the ax two years shy of retirement?" asked David Van Gelder. Ares had put in more than 23 years for the city.

    All but one council member approved the plan. Council member Phil Diamond said it did not allow for enough oversight over the city's finances.

    Diamond said he wanted to see membership on the city's budget oversight committee expanded to include people other than City Hall staff. He also lobbied for the audit office to report directly to the council and the mayor instead of to Dyer's Chief of Staff David Dix and the mayor.

    "I've been here for one year now and my experience with the budget and financial process was very disappointing," Diamond said. "I think you need checks and balances and financial accountability."

    Dyer said his plan creates more accountability with a finance committee and independent financial adviser as an extra layer of scrutiny over Chief Financial Officer Mickey Miller, who oversees the city's investments, pension funds and debt.

    He also said the plan calls for a new department devoted solely to the city's budget to be headed by former city Comptroller Rob Garner.

    "It's a little hard to understand his concerns," Dyer said. "I guess it's the belt, suspenders and second belt is what he's looking for."

    Beth Kassab can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5448.

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