A recently-appointed Southwest Florida fire chief is facing a few challenges at his department.
A WINK News uncovered concerns at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department that date back several years, including millions of dollars paid in overtime.
Over the last 10 years, records show, the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department has paid $7 million in overtime. The current chief, Ron Martin, is an 18-year veteran who wasn’t chief during that 10-year period.
We obtained 275 pages of department records showing numerous internal investigations since 2019 and some of those include accusations against him before he became chief.
Martin became the new fire chief in late October.
In 2020, records show, Fort Myers Beach spent about the same as Fort Myers and Cape Coral in overtime pay, but the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department has a smaller number of employees than the other agencies and covers a smaller area.
“There are a number of firefighters that like the overtime. But the sweet spot is trying to find where the break-over point is,” said Jane Thompson, director of finance at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department.
He said overtime costs are important to cover the city.
“Ensuring that we have adequate staff to meet the community’s demands for service is a responsible use of taxpayer dollars,” Martin said.
Thompson said the starting pay for a Fort Myers Beach firefighter is $51,000.
“We’re looking to fill all of our vacant positions, Thompson said. “Ideally, we wouldn’t have overtime if there wasn’t other mitigating factors.”
The amount of overtime pay has declined in recent years and Martin said his leadership will continue to cut costs.
“I would anticipate over the next three years that we will see a downward trend in our overtime trend,” Martin said.
In the last two years, the department conducted 16 internal investigations. Some found no wrongdoing while others covered minor issues such a missing laptop or a cracked rearview mirror.
“Work environment with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department is essentially a positive work environment. Like any organization we’ve had individuals who say this is the worst place in the world to work,” Martin said.
Some of the investigations involved accusations against Martin before he became chief, including one female employee accusing Marting of being “unprofessional, inappropriate and angry.”
A 25-year veteran of the department complained he had been targeted by Marton, while a third complaint accused Martin of not treating others by the department’s standards stemming from a series of emails.
Human Resources determined part of the claim was founded but “there is no evidence Martin acted without professionalism, loyalty or integrity.”
Martin said he will prioritize a healthy working environment and wants people to know they can call 24/7 no matter the problem.
“We will continue to operate in an extremely accountable and transparent manner,” Martin said.
WINK News reached out to the former Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Chief but has not heard back.
We also asked Martin about his goals for the department during his time as chief. He says he wants people to know they can call 24/7 and that every problem, big or little, will get their best effort and attention.