Ocala (FL) Fire Chief’s Firing is Surprising, Shocking to Some

Austin L. Miller

Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.

(MCT)

Jun. 27—Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander was let go from his job in what has been seen as a surprising, shocking and baffling turn of events.

Alexander, who has been with the fire department for 27 years and has risen through the ranks, said the move was unexpected.

“I was in shock, and surprised. I had no idea this was coming,” Alexander said Saturday, a day after his termination.

Chief since late 2018 after the resignation of former Fire Chief Bradd Clark, Alexander said he wants “to make sure the community and the fire service people know that I’m here to serve. I still plan on doing it anyway I can,” making reference to the fact that he will be available to the people of the city.

Alexander said Saturday was his 27th anniversary of being at the department. Although he acknowledged that he was terminated, he declined to discuss the details surrounding his sudden departure.

He said he’s “ready to serve the citizens of Ocala anyway I can.”

City Manager Sandra Wilson, who one councilman said had told him Alexander was going to be fired, declined comment on Saturday.

Mayor Kent Guinn said Wilson came into his office on Friday afternoon, closed the door and told him she had to relieve Alexander of his duties. He said though they discussed Alexander’s firing, he did not want to talk about what was said in the meeting.

Guinn, who doesn’t have a vote on the council and oversees the police department, said he doesn’t know what’s Alexander’s next step.

The mayor said as far as he knows, Alexander is loved by members of the fire department and thought he was doing a great job. He said he has known Alexander for years and thinks of him as a “great guy.”

Councilman Jay Musleh said the city’s charter stipulates that the city manager can hire and fire department heads and he supports the charter. He said other city managers have fired employees.

Musleh said he doesn’t know the details and Wilson had given him an overview of the problem. He said she told him that Alexander was going to be fired on Friday afternoon. The councilman did not want to talk about the conversation between he and Wilson.

Asked if it would be best if the situation could’ve been discussed at an open forum, such as a city council meeting, Musleh said no. He said to have a discussion in this political climate would not be a good idea.

The councilman said they hired Wilson to do a job and part of that job “is to make tough decisions.”

Councilmen Justin Grabelle, Matthew Wardell and Ire Bethea could not be reached for comment. When reached by phone, Councilman Brent Malever said he did not know enough to comment.

Union President and OFR Capt. Richard Grubbs said he’s disappointed about Alexander’s termination. He said the former chief gave them new equipment, new buildings and did everything he could do to help the men and women of the department.

“We’re shocked. We don’t know what happened,” Grubbs said.

Grubbs said he spoke to four city councilmen about the situation. While he would not give names, Grubbs said two of the members were what he classified as “surprised, shocked and concerned.” The other two, he said, told him they supported the decision. He said he asked them why they would go along with it, and they could not give him a reason or reasons.

The union president said the decision to fire Alexander could not be operational because it was his primary job and he did it very well.

Former union head Capt. Rob Altman calls Alexander “a very good fire chief” and a leader.

“This is a surprise,” Altman said.

Alexander has been a battalion chief, captain, driver/operator and firefighter/paramedic throughout his years at OFR.

A little more than a year ago, Wilson and Alexander were among the top three candidates for the vacant city manager’s position following the resignation of the city’s former city manager, John Zobler. Wilson got the nod by a 4-1 vote in June 2020.

In a recent interview with Alexander about his mother’s death, the former fire chief praised city officials for their dedication to city employees.

Guinn said the next city council meeting should be an interesting one.

For now, Alexander said he wants to thank everyone for his 27 years, and encourage OFR “to continue providing the high level of public safety for Marion County.”

Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, austin.miller@starbanner.com or @almillerosb.

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