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Answers as to why a Fire Chief and dozens of firefighters resigned from the Upper Captiva Fire Department

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jan 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 05:27:34-05

UPPER CAPTIVA, FL — We are three weeks into the New Year and have not heard much about what is happening in Upper Captiva when it comes to their fire department and the mass resignation last December when dozens of firefighters, along with the fire chief, resigned.

And I, along with you the community, want answers — so I went right to the Upper Captiva Fire Department, which is only accessible by boat or air, to get you answers…find how the department is currently staffed...what the plans are going forward when it comes to keeping residents and visitors there safe and asking multiple officials how this resignation even happened in the first place.

"I just think that the whole thing is a nightmare for everybody." A nightmare as Division Chief John Cook explains it, as he was part of that mass resignation and from the time we heard about the announcement in December — one question that stood out the most was, "Why?"

Why would a Fire Chief along with dozens of firefighters just up and resign?

Division Chief John Cook says, "The main reason I was a part of it and left was just the funding part, with the referendum being voted down, one of the 'new' commissioners returning from the past and then having dealt with him in the past, I just didn't want to go through all that again."

Division Chief Cook tells me he came back recently to help out because he knew it was needed but isn't sure he will stay past March.

I'm being told from multiple sources that the mass resignation is because of safety and things going on behind the scenes politically with a fire commissioner who returned months ago. I asked that fire commissioner if he was aware of the comments and concerns and if he had any response to it — he told me no comment.

The same concerns were also told to me by the former Fire Chief of Upper Captiva Jason Martin. It wasn't an easy decision for him to leave and he didn't know that many firefighters would also resign after him.

"There was misinformation passed around to the island community that adversely affected the renewal of the special fire assessment. Even as a renewal, with no increase, the community wished not to continue with the funding needed to maintain the department's current fire, EMS and rescue services," Former Upper Captiva Fire Chief James Martin.

John Trujillo is the Division Chief of EMS and Training who had nothing but positive things to say about the former chief. "The past fire chief was great. Jason was a stand-up person who did the job, did it well, and had a lot of good people in place. It's a loss not just for the guys but for the community because of the number of guys that are out there that have experience. Knowledge of the island, knowledge of the waterways where things are happening on the water and off the water — knowledge of the island... it's hard to replace that."

The Upper Captiva Fire Department has about two dozen firefighters on staff and right now the need for safety as just this week, the Division Chief told me, only 2 firefighters were on staff to work Monday's schedule.

"Security is the biggest thing. I mean, you can see the brush piles around you, they're all brown and we're already in a Mid-range Fire Watch. It's an hour to get to [Upper Captiva] so it'll be 4 guys out here for the first hour," says Division Chief Cook.

Division Chief Trujillo of EMS and Training said, "I worry it's not just me, it's all the guys out there. We worry about what happens out there, we're concerned about their safety. If there's not enough coverage out there we worry about the safety of people, if there's no medic out there... if they don't have a paramedic or two paramedics on duty to run a call or to handle a situation out there."

The fire department tells me they serve more than 400 homes on Upper Captiva. The firefighters on the island are part-time with full-time jobs off the island.

Since the resignations, the department only has a couple of dozen firefighters and Chairman of the board of Fire Commissioners for Upper Captiva Duncan Rosen tells me he's trying to fix this.

"It's never easy when a chief decides to leave and we wish Jason Martin nothing but the best. I would like to communicate to the public especially to the firefighters and also the community, that under my leadership I have zero intentions of lowering the number of firemen on duty from four down to less. I want to make sure to maintain that and also maintain our advanced life support RLS program."

And trying to fill the schedules the best they can.

"Definitely this month there were scheduling issues and the majority of the schedule is completely filled but there are select days where we do have to call Lee Control and let them know that we do not have a paramedic," says Rosen.

Rosen says the department is currently looking to hire more men and women to help serve Upper Captiva's residents and visitors.

"I also hope that the board is upfront with what they're looking at as far as the hours that they want a new chief to do, explain the staffing situation and how they get their help so they don't come in partially blinded and I think it's going to be a very hard position to fill because of everything that's involved," says Cook.

Rosen says Friday’s Board of Commissioners meeting will provide more updates on staffing, the referendum failing and where they are in the search for a new Fire Chief.

We've been covering this story since the news broke back in December. Check out our previous articles to follow the full story.