Another grand jury report this year, directed at the behavior and operation of Idyllwild Fire Protection District employees, was issued Thursday, June 19. This is the second report focused on IFPD from the 2013-14 grand jury and the fifth since 2008.
This report investigated three topics — the behavior of the administrative captain, Mark LaMont, nonfeasance of the fire chief, Patrick Reitz, and a recent Brown Act violation.
The grand jury investigated several accusations about the administrative captain’s actions. Among the incidents was an effort to discredit a reserve firefighter, about which the grand jury has sworn testimony from several firefighters refuting the captain’s claims. Another incident involved the ladder truck backing up without a ground guide, presumably the administrative captain’s responsibility as passenger in the truck. The truck backed into an IFPD ambulance. Later, the captain asked the ambulance crews to claim culpability “because they needed to ‘protect’ the driver in Truck 625.”
These were just two of several incidents for which the grand jury criticized the administrative captain’s behavior and false statements.
As a result, the grand jury recommended that the ”IFPD board shall conduct an independent investigation into the [administrative captain’s] behavior and consider terminating him for violating the Firefighters Code of Ethics and placing IFPD in a potentially liable position.”Two of the individuals who were victims of this apparently abusive behavior have independently confirmed the incidents and elaborated about their treatment. One did not want to be identified for this article.
While attending to a medical call, the patient refused an IV. The paramedic reserve told the Town Crier, “I felt they were an adult and mentally competent and had the right to do that.” Nevertheless, the administrative captain ordered him to insert the IV. Forcing the patient to accept the IV made the reserve uncomfortable.
Later the administrative captain said the reserve must learn “blind obedience” to him.
In another incident involving the same reserve, the administrative captain claimed the paramedic forged his signature on training forms. The captain wrote the reserve’s school about this. Eventually, the reserve hired a handwriting expert, for $1,100 at his own expense, to prove the alleged forgery was not his.
This incident happened during 2012, when Michael Sherman was the acting fire chief. The paramedic said Sherman told him that accusing a captain of lying was a heavy accusation. After a few days, Sherman said he was “standing behind the [captain].”
Frank Altamirano, who was a reserve with Idyllwild Fire Department between 2011 and 2013, was involved in two of the incidents. While on a medical call, he was the ambulance driver and was asked to take the blame for the ladder truck backing into the ambulance. He said the administrative captain called him and his partner before they even returned to Idyllwild saying he needed them to protect the truck driver. When they expressed reluctance, he called them into his office individually to press the point.
“[The administrative captain] was always manipulating people under him,” Altamirano said, “promising me I’d be the next hired firefighter.”
When asked if he tried to get help, Altamirano replied, “What do you do going against the higher brass? Chief Reitz was always on his side.”
Regarding the chief, the grand jury accused him of nonfeasance — “the failure to act or to do that which it is your legal duty to do.” The jury’s first finding was Reitz’s apparent failure to obtain his California Paramedic Certification within six months of signing a contract in which this was a condition.
The grand jury reported testimony from current and prior firefighters who claim the chief lacked leadership, which results in weak, non-existent supervision and poor morale in the department.
One of the comments referred to the chief’s lack of involvement while the administrative captain did too much. The grand jury then referred to its first report of the term in which it said “the administrative captain has too many job responsibilities.”
The grand jury recommended the commission ensure the chief assumes full management responsibility of the department, conduct an independent investigation and consider terminating him, too.
The final topic was the IFPD commission and its Finance Committee’s meeting with county fire staff in Perris about the Emergency Dispatch Center as was reported in the Town Crier on April 17. The grand jury also concluded that the attendees constituted a quorum of the commission and committee, and the meeting should have been noticed and open pursuant to the Ralph M. Brown Act, Government Code 54956.