Fire division must release records

Orlando officials have until Wednesday to turn over records to state prosecutors investigating whether the city's Fire Department misused federal grant money.

The state prosecutor's office has subpoenaed documents related to $378,000 that Orlando received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2005 and 2006.


The money was made available to reimburse departments that paid overtime to firefighters while they were in special-training classes or paid other firefighters who filled in for them. Orlando received the grant money, even though the Fire Department didn't have additional personnel expenses.

The city returned the money in April, after the Orlando Sentinel reported the allegations.


But two subpoenas served on city officials Oct. 4 show that investigators still are looking at the city's handling of the money. The subpoenas seek:

*All city e-mail from 2005 for three department administrators: Toby Bevelacqua, the district chief who applied for the grants; Bob Bowman, fire chief at the time; and Jim Reynolds, the current fire chief.

*Payroll records for dozens of firefighters who attended training classes on how to handle hazardous materials and how to rescue victims trapped in collapsed buildings.

*A detailed list of how the city spent the money.

City Attorney Mayanne Downs said the investigation is nearly over and she expects the city to be cleared of wrongdoing.

"We're advised the subpoenas are just routine, in the sense that they want to corroborate with documents what they've already been told," Downs said.

Attorney General Bill McCollum's office, which oversees the statewide prosecutor, referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is conducting its own probe of the grant. A spokesman declined to reveal any details.

"Right now, it wouldn't be appropriate to characterize the status of the investigation," said Steve Cole, a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman in Tampa.


The subpoenas come at the same time the Orlando Fire Department is embroiled in controversy over a 5-year-old promotional exam.

On Friday, Reynolds demoted two high-ranking chiefs after an inquiry concluded they had used a department radio to secretly listen and record colleagues who were taking the same test they would take the next day.

Reynolds lamented the bad publicity from the separate incidents but said his department is still top-notch.

"You never like to be viewed negatively by the public, but I can assure you the operations of the Orlando Fire Department are second to none," he said.