Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette confirmed Thursday, April 15, the firing of Port Orange Fire Chief Ken Fustin.
The firing stems from a verbal altercation, including explicit language and a threat to fight, Mr. Fustin initiated with Joe Pozzo, the Volusia County Director of Public Protection. The altercation occurred April 1 at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant on International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach in the presence of two employees of the Port Orange Fire Department.
Mr. Fustin, hired in 2016, was put on paid administrative leave April 7, pending the outcome of the investigation.
In 2015, he retired from a 26-year career as a member of the Springfield (Ill.) Fire Department. Upon retiring he indicated a “deep love” of auto racing. “I may look for some type of opportunity within the auto racing industry.” he stated, making the move to Port Orange a natural choice.
Witnesses indicated Mr. Fustin physically threatened Mr. Pozzo, clinching his fists and suggesting they could leave the restaurant and settle their differences via a fight in the parking lot. He made this suggestion to fight at least twice.
Reports indicate Mr. Pozzo remained calm throughout the discussion and offered a handshake at the end of their meal, which was refused by Mr. Fustin. At issue was Chief Fustin’s desire for a 24-hour transport for the fire department. Mr. Fustin threaten to stop the conversation if he did not receive a start date for the 24-hour transport.
A witness to the meeting stated they had never seen behavior as unprofessional as that exhibited by Mr. Fustin.
A source indicates Mr. Fustin perceived Mr. Pozzo as making passive-aggressive remarks early-on in their discussion, that both men were heatedly pointing at each other, and Mr. Fustin’s suggestion was not to fight in the parking lot, but simply to leave the restaurant to discuss the matter further. The same source indicated Mr. Fustin apologized for any foul language he might have used.
He apologized a second time Friday, April 16, in a statement to Mike Springer of WFTV, “I deeply regret the embarrassment I have caused to myself and every member of Port Orange Fire & Rescue for the incident that occurred April 1 with Joe Pozzo. I sincerely apologize to my former department members, my staff and coworkers.”
He insists he was being extorted, “My professional relationship with Mr. Pozzo took a dramatic nosedive about 10 months ago when I felt he and Volusia County Fire Chief Howard Bailey were attempting to extort the taxpayers of Port Orange by reducing the annual enclave fire protection fee Volusia County paid to Port Orange, in exchange for allowing Port Orange Fire to operate our ambulance 24 hours per day, instead of the 12 hours per day they have limited the department to for the past two years."
"There had been a long history of the county paying Port Orange $50,000 per year for enclave fire protection, in spite of the fact they were collecting nearly three to four times that amount from residents within these enclaves. They proposed reducing the annual enclave fee to $35,000 per year on a three-year contract offer, so a reduction of $45,000 in total," Mr. Fustin said. "This was concurrent with conversations I was having with County Fire Chief Bailey who stated if I were to accept the lower enclave protection fee, he would help get us 24-hour ambulance coverage. Where I'm from, that's extortion.”
Enclaves are unincorporated areas of a county, usually surrounded by a city.
A member of the four people gathered at the table indicated this is not the first time Mr. Fustin and Mr. Pozzo have engaged in heated conversations.
Division Chief of Operations Joe Wulfing will be interim chief. New City Manager Wayne Clark, starting on Monday, will make the decision on Mr. Wulfing remaining as interim chief.