POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk County government experienced a major shakeup Tuesday when the county's fire chief, Anthony Stravino, told the county manager he was retiring.
- Chief's announcement came at meeting to discuss investigation
- Firm's independent report presented fatal fire findings to commission
- Family of Laura Pickard still plans to proceed with lawsuit
- More Polk County stories
Stravino reportedly offered his resignation at the start of a meeting in which county commissioners were to be briefed on a two-month independent investigation into a deadly November fire and Polk Fire Rescue itself.
County Manager Jim Freeman didn't say whether Stravino would have been fired had he not resigned.
“The discussion never proceeded to that point, because at the beginning of the meeting, he offered his retirement, so that became a moot point," Freeman said.
As to the investigation itself, the consulting firm that conducted the investigation, Emergency Services Consulting International, shared a summary of its findings with commissioners during an hour-long presentation.
They pointed out issues with a broken computer on a responding fire truck that would have alerted Capt. James Williams that the woman who died in the fire, Loretta Pickard, was actually on the phone with 911 inside her home after he arrived. They also noted a radio dispatcher didn't make that clear.
There has been a lot of public scrutiny of Williams because he took social media video of the fire. That act and the resulting fallout were factors in his resignation.
The consultant and Freeman said they couldn't be certain that the social media video was recorded after Pickard's death, but Freeman said that appeared to be the case.
Consultant Jim Angle said there were many factors to consider to determine whether Pickard could have been saved and couldn't make a definitive conclusion.
“He took critical fire ground factors that he's been trained in decision-making at that time, at that place, and made certain decisions that none of us can say that any decision that he made, that one thing that he may have done differently, may have made a difference. It may have or it may not have,” Angle explained.
“There are decisions that he could have made differently," Freeman said. "Is that because he is a bad person or because he is a coward? I don’t think so. I don’t think so."
Family unhappy with presentation
Pickard's niece, Amber Addision, has been a vocal critic of Williams, the fire department, and county leaders in the wake of the fire. She was left unsatisfied by the presentation.
“A lot of sugarcoating," she said. "A lot of 'well, we don’t knows.' A lot of 'there’s a lot of variables,'" she said.
Despite the months-long investigation, Addison is alleging a coverup and said her family is planning to move forward with a lawsuit.