Three individuals — two former reserve Idyllwild Fire firefighters and the father of one former limited-term firefighter and one current reserve — spoke at the Aug. 12 Idyllwild Fire Protection District meeting.
Unlike local residents who praised the medical service they received this summer, these three were appalled at the district’s leadership, both at Chief Patrick Reitz and the commission.
They described several incidents of personal abuse and orders beyond the scope of good management. Further, they feel the district’s commission has ignored these charges and abetted the poor, if not abusive and inappropriate, behavior.
While the commission and chief have referred to the two former firefighters as “disgruntled,” current staff have corroborated and confirmed several of these accusations.
Frank Altamirano was the first to speak to the commission. He was a reserve firefighter for more than two years, starting in January 2011.
Summarizing his observations during this period, Altamirano said, “There was a lot of lying, cheating and manipulating of the system.”
Two incidents involving misrepresentation were the focus of his statement. The first was an offer from Capt. Mark LaMont to sign off on Altamirano’s FireFighter 1 training. Since he had not completed all of the required courses, Altamirano objected for fear that if he worked elsewhere this falsification of training would be apparent.
The second event was when IFPD truck 621 backed into one of the ambulances while on a call. Altamirano and Reserve Brett Leesburg were with the ambulance. Firefighter Adam Rodriguez was driving the truck and LaMont was his passenger.
While removing the gurney from the ambulance, it jolted and they nearly fell. The truck had backed into the ambulance without anyone guiding it, which is against protocol.
LaMont encouraged and suggested one of the ambulance crew “take the blame for the accident,” according to Altamirano, who eventually agreed after several meetings with LaMont.
Later in the week, Altamirano said Reitz had called him after last week’s meeting but not to ask about the incidents Altamirano described. Instead, he said Reitz wanted to know with whom Altamirano had shared his letter and who invited him to the IFPD meeting.
Kyle O’Dell, a former paramedic intern, spoke out about his treatment at Idyllwild Fire.
“I thought I was the only one with multiple problems with Capt. LaMont. I talked to the grand jury and I came tonight,” he started. Then he described how LaMont alleged O’Dell had forged LaMont’s name on training papers and he would lose his chance to complete his paramedic training. O’Dell spent $1,100 of his own money for a forensic handwriting analysis to prove it wasn’t O’Dell’s writing but LaMont’s.
O’Dell said he shared this incident with former Chief Michael Sherman, who replied that he would stand behind LaMont.
When O’Dell finished, he told the commission, “This is a defining moment. A decision has to be made. I’m willing to answer questions.” But no one asked him anything.
Thomas Gibby has two sons. Eric is a former reserve at IFPD and works at a city fire department in the county. Vincent, starting paramedic school, is still an IFPD reserve.
Gibby effusively praised LaMont for the firefighter training he gave the sons. But he felt misstatements and innuendos were being spread about Eric and said LaMont said his source was Thomas.
Since Thomas was the supposed “source” of these falsehoods, he felt compelled to write the commission in January. Over the next three weeks, he wrote two more letters. None of these have been directly answered, he said.
“All I wanted was a response to my seven-page letter,” he implored the commission. “In the future, the commission might want to think about how it communicates. This situation snowballed.”
Commission President Jerry Buchanan acknowledged that he had not responded to Gibby. When he received the complaint about staff, he referred it to Reitz.
“It’s board policy that the chief deals with public complaints,” Buchanan explained.
According to Buchanan, Reitz did speak to Gibby. And eventually, they did use an outside investigator to pursue it further and decided no action was needed.