APOPKA, Fla. — In the wake of 25-year-old firefighter Austin Duran being crushed and killed while at work last summer, consultants are flagging health and safety issues at the Apopka Fire Department.
What You Need To Know
- The Apopka fire department recently underwent a health and safety investigation
- A recently released 45-page draft report describes years of neglected safety and health programs
- Apopka Professional Firefighters Association Alex Klepper says he agrees with the report's assertion that the department needs a reset
Alex Klepper, the President of the Apopka Professional Firefighters Association, said losing Duran has been the hardest challenge of his career.
“He wasn’t running into a building to save somebody," Klepper said. "The circumstances of his injury and his death were hard to wrestle with."
Duran was hospitalized after a trailer filled with sand tipped over and crushed him while he was on duty. He died weeks later.
Officials say he and a coworker helping him had not been trained on how to move the trailer.
“He was fresh out of school," Klepper said. "He went through our cadet program, but he was green as could be and he always wanted to learn more and was very kind and gentle."
Klepper said at one point there was a safety committee, but most of its members have retired.
“It’s something that I think everybody just got comfortable and overlooked it and throught, 'Well nothing happened today, what is going to happen tomorrow?' and unfortunately we paid for those types of feelings," he said. "And it is something we need to revisit and we’ve been trying to revisit it."
Klepper said he agrees with the findings of this 45-page draft report by Gannon Emergency Solutions that recommends the department undergo a reset. The report was commissioned by the city in 2022 and points out years of neglected safety and health programs, lack of safety professionals and overloaded organizational structures, on top of negative workplace behaviors that discouraged firefighters from speaking out.
“Nothing in there in there is groundbreaking,” said Klepper.
In the margins of the report are comments from the fire chief and city attorney disputing many of the claims, which Klepper said was upsetting.
“We are in a field of prevention but we do not want to take that look upon ourselves and how do we prevent something from happening," he said. "We would rather wait and react to it after the fact, which is what we are doing now and why we are so frustrated."
Klepper said he hopes that the recommendations in the report — such as allowing the consultants to help with decisions and bring in additional staff — are followed before tragedy strikes again.
“We need a lot of direction and we are not getting it,” he said.
Fire Chief Sean Wylam said that the report is just a draft and there are inaccuracies he wants to address. While saying the report is not totally objective, Wylam added that the department administration definitely wants to create more robust training and safety programs in the future.