Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board prepares for changing of the guard

Ochopee Fire Chief (and acting Capri chief) Alan McLaughlin gives his report. The Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Advisory Committee met Thursday afternoon at the firehouse. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Ochopee Fire Chief (and acting Capri chief) Alan McLaughlin gives his report. The Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Advisory Committee met Thursday afternoon at the firehouse. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Matt Crowder, likely to be on the next board, addresses the current group. The Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Advisory Committee met Thursday afternoon at the firehouse. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Matt Crowder, likely to be on the next board, addresses the current group. The Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Advisory Committee met Thursday afternoon at the firehouse. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

It was the last meeting of the year, and the last meeting ever for several of the group. The Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board met Thursday, in the all-purpose meeting room of the firehouse on State Road 952.

With the new year, a new board will be seated, with only two members of the current five-member body carried over, Jim Gault and Jim Hughes. Ted Decker, Kevin Walsh, and Joe Langkawel, board chairman, will be stepping down.

Decker has served for six years, and Walsh for two. Both men said they would have been willing to remain on the board, but being out of the area for long stretches of the off-season, they felt they couldn't be as effective as full-time local residents.

"Spending summers up north, we weren't here to work, and get things done," said Decker. Coming up with a quorum has plagued the board. Thursday's meeting was delayed until a third member showed up, and held a few extra minutes to see if a fourth might appear; the September meeting had to be adjourned when the qualifying third member was called away on a personal matter.

Joining the board will be three new members. Raymond Kane and Dan Sansevieri have had their applications approved by the Board of County Commissioners, the required preliminary step. John Rogers, who has also applied, must be officially approved before he can be voted onto the advisory board.

The board dealt with the routine, even humdrum matters of firehouse operations, with the meeting starting with, and mostly taken up by, a report from interim fire chief Alan McLaughlin. Over a year after Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Chief Emilio Rodriguez was summarily fired by Collier County, the Isles of Capri still does not have a fire chief in place, and McLaughlin, who is actually Ochopee Fire Chief, fills in.

One potentially non-routine, even explosive, matter was not officially included in the board's agenda, but only discussed in passing. Barbara Shea, the department's administrative assistant, had filed a workplace harassment/violation action, members and the chief said, resulting from public reaction at a meeting in the fall. That, explained Chief McLaughlin, explained why Shea was not in the meeting room taking the minutes.

"I can't keep her in here. She's welcome to come back," said McLaughlin, "but I could not make her come to the meeting to take notes. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen if I force her to come back. Anything beyond that is an HR issue."

Shea had felt threatened during the meeting, said the chief.

"She didn't say anyone in particular, she just said it was hostile," he said.

After the meeting, Shea said she had no comment on the complaint.

"I know nothing," she said, echoing Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes," but did indicate she was perfectly willing to take the minutes during the meeting, saying it would be easier than relying on a scratchy tape recording afterward.

Outgoing board member Decker expressed his support for Shea.

"Barbara has done an excellent job as far as I'm concerned, with all the angst and upheaval," he said.

The board saw a synopsis of incident reports from the month of November, indicating 33 total incidents with the most serious being a vehicle fire that caused $4,500 in damage. Of the calls, 16 were EMS-related.

Collier County Commissioners will take up a proposal at their Jan. 8 meeting that would give the Capri district more autonomy. After that, the fire district advisory board's next meeting will deal with the result of the commissioners' action, as well as bringing on the new board members. The Capri advisory board's next meeting is tentatively set for Jan. 17 at 3 p.m.

Chief McLaughlin said after the December meeting he does not know when a new chief will be appointed in Isles of Capri, or if any progress will be made toward consolidating the agency with another, possibly East Naples or Marco Island.

"When I started (with the county) six years ago, there was talk of consolidation," he said. "It's a very complicated issue."

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