Firefighter-Paramedic Michael Dickson, a 10-year veteran of Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, resigned last week with a scathing letter criticizing town leaders and department managers. Dickson sent his resignation in an email, citing "day to day harassment and retaliation."
"The Brotherhood' of a noble profession has changed to 'brothers in the hood,' full of people that find it necessary to use their position of power, lie, throw their fellow firefighter under the bus, take credit for someone else's work, steal, distortor cover up the truth during internal investigations so as to get ahead or protect those with damming (sic) information," Dickson wrote in his letter, dated Dec. 16.
Dickson is the 17th firefighter, and the 28th public- safety employee, to leave the town this year -- up from last year's totals of 10 firefighters and 24 public-safety employees.
Low morale and turmoil have been problems in the police and fire departments since the Town Council decided to reduce employee pensions last year. The departments have been plagued with firings,resignations, lawsuits, demotions and reprimands.
Many firefighters have left Palm Beach for other departments,saying the problem is more than the pension cuts. They cite department leaders who look for minor things to investigate and sometimes embellish allegations.
"I could not be there one more second," Dickson said by phone Friday. "I can't work for an organization I can't trust."
Dickson said he has 24 years' experience in the field, including stints in Lighthouse Point and Little Rock, Ark.
"(Palm Beach) wants bodies, not people, and they certainly don't want people who will stand up and question things," Dickson said.
Public Safety Director Kirk Blouin describes fire department management as "fair-minded, logical and hardworking." Blouin pointed to recent openings at Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue as one reason employees are leaving. Another factor is that the fire department had been "very loosely run" prior to his May 2011appointment as director of both police and fire departments, he said.
"It's culture shock," Blouin said. "With the change in benefits and freeze in salaries, it's unpleasant. There was a lack of structure and discipline that existed in the organization. After you effect major change, there's going to be resistance."
Town Manager Peter Elwell said fire-rescue management has his "full confidence.
"There's been an amount of substantial transition within the department, and there will be some additional transition," Elwell said. "The leadership in the department, from Public Safety Director Blouin to Deputy Chief (Darrel) Donatto on down, have provided outstanding service to the town during a very difficult period in the fire-rescue department's history."
Dickson emailed his resignation letter to public-safety and town employees and hand-delivered it to Mayor Gail Coniglio.
Coniglio said she is concerned about department morale and hopes Blouin and Donatto "can maintain a cohesive workforce and work through the issues.
"I have spoken to the director and to the town manager just to make sure we are proactive," Coniglio said. "It may take some time, but I think the issues can be resolved. If there are places I can be of help, I will stand to the side but ready."
Written by Michele Dargan