CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — The City of Clearwater terminated veteran fire inspector Duanne Anderson for faking inspections following a six-month investigation.
“I was ambushed,” Anderson told 8 On Your Side Monday. “For lack of a better therm, this is a witch hunt.”
Questions about the validity of Anderson’s work prompted the city to reinspect 289 homes and businesses previously inspected by Anderson; inspections that You Paid For. Investigators insist those reinspections uncovered 80 violations “of such an egregious nature” that they “clearly demonstrated” Anderson did not really inspect those properties.
“I do a fine job,” Anderson told 8 On Your Side Monday. “I have not falsified any information.”
In one case, investigators determined Anderson, a 19-year veteran of the department, failed to note a fire suppression system at a local business wasn’t connected to a water source. “I would have to check that,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure.”
In another case, investigators claim a reinspection revealed 20,000 pounds of smokeless powder stored under “dangerous” conditions at a local business that stocks ammunition reloading supplies for gun enthusiasts. The shop owner disputed that finding and said the actual amount of smokeless powder was closer to 1,000 lbs. Either way, the reinspection revealed a number of violations missed by Anderson.
“Again, I would have to say, who missed it prior to me?” Anderson said.
Anderson insists that nothing in the shop posed a real danger to citizens or firefighters, as the report claims.
In an exclusive interview on Monday, Anderson told You Paid For It he is a diligent and competent fire “senior” inspector who did no wrong. He claims he cut corners on occasion by phoning businesses to confirm corrections to the violations he noted previously. Anderson claims it is impossible for Clearwater fire inspectors to complete a quota of 10 inspections per day. He insists other city inspectors operate the same way he did.
In city records obtained by You Paid For It, Clearwater Assistant Fire Marshal Ronald Neuberger said the city began looking into Anderson’s practices in January after “complaints from the public.” People wondered why one of the fire department’s vehicles “was at some of the city parks during the work day,” the records reveal.
Anderson insists that’s wrong and described the investigation as a “witch hunt” by high-ranking supervisors within the Clearwater Fire Department. Whatever the motivation, the investigation has now cost Clearwater taxpayers $22,340 and an additional $9604 in labor costs to conduct the additional 289 inspections. Those figures do not include the four months Anderson had to sit out his $70,798-a-year-job while investigators wrapped up their case prior to his July 18 firing.
Investigators concluded Anderson was falsifying his inspection reports after comparing GPS tracking data from his vehicle with the inspection reports he was filing electronically from the field. On numerous occasions Anderson’s vehicle location did not coincide with the subject of his reports, officials said.
Police detectives also conducted video surveillance of Anderson for three and a half days to track his activities and noted he never left his vehicle while filing some reports at the location of Clearwater businesses.
Anderson claims he was never given a “due process” opportunity to explain his practices after a surprise four-hour recorded interrogation by detectives. He plans to appeal his firing as a union grievance.
According to a 154-page report generated by the 6-month investigation, when investigators confronted Anderson with allegations of faking his reports, Anderson blamed racism as the reason he was targeted for investigation.
Anderson has had a long but checkered history with the city. He was fired once before in 2005 and also demoted in 2003 for his actions on the job. Anderson appealed his firing in 2005, and an arbitrator later forced the city to re-hire him, saying officials did not follow due process. Anderson believes the city has also made due process mistakes this time around and said he is determined to clear his name.
Although the city fired Anderson again in July, records did not become public until this month because of the criminal investigation. The city will not comment due to the open criminal investigation regarding falsification of official records. Anderson said Clearwater police have turned their findings over to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to determine whether to press charges.
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