Four months after being named the interim fire chief, the Zephyrhills City Council is set on Monday to make Daniel Spillman’s job at the head of the city’s fire rescue department permanent.
Spillman took over the department in June when Verne Riggall — under fire for how he had run the agency over a two-year period — resigned before city council members could vote on whether to terminate him.
Spillman interviewed for the permanent position Sept. 22, and competed against Capt. Ralph Velez and former Pasco County fire service officer Stephen Smith for the job, according to city documents. The three made their bids for the job in front of a selection committee that included Zephyrhills city manager Steve Spina, city human resources director Sandra Amerson, former fire captain Scott Winters, and Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce executive director Vonnie Mikkelsen.
Velez has been a captain with the fire department for more than seven years, according to an online social media profile, and also has served on the board of Main Street Zephyrhills Inc. between 2005 and 2011. Velez has spent 24 years total with the Zephyrhills fire department, according to published reports, and graduated from Zephyrhills High School in the early 1980s.
Smith spent six years as a training chief for Pasco County Fire Rescue, according to an online business profile, and retired from that job in 2010. He’s currently a charge paramedic and trainer in Manatee County, and has consulted with and worked as an expert legal witness for EDT Corp., for nearly 25 years.
Spillman joined the Zephyrhills fire department in September 2013 after spending more than a year as a fire chief in Escambia County. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, and a master’s degree from City University in Bellevue, Washington, according to his resume.
As city manager, Spina has the power to appoint and even remove the chiefs of both the fire and police department, as long as he has a simple majority approval from the city council.
Riggall worked in High Springs as the fire chief the same time now former Zephyrhills city manager Jim Drumm led that city’s administration. Drumm resigned his job in Zephyrhills less than two months before Riggall after realizing he didn’t have the council’s support to continue as city manager.
Before he left, however, Drumm already had considered investigating issues in the fire department under Riggall. Spina continued the investigation after he took over as interim city manager, and said there were problems in how Riggall staffed fire engines and emergency response vehicles. Some of the staffing records also showed there were not enough workers on hand to safely respond to necessary calls, Spina said, and even they didn’t have all the appropriate equipment they would need.
The fire department was suffering from low morale, as well, and Riggall reportedly did not keep regular office hours, Spina’s report at the time said. Instead showing up at non-traditional times so that he could work around his wife’s schedule.
The city council will make the final decision during its regular meeting Oct. 13 at 6 p.m., at Zephyrhills City Hall, 5335 Eighth St.