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Documents: Fire captain in command of scene where woman died was about to be terminated

Capt. James Williams was in command at the scene of a fatal fire north of Lakeland in November, where 76-year-old Loretta Pickard died.
Credit: Polk County Fire Rescue

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Polk County fire captain who resigned Tuesday was about to be fired at that same disciplinary hearing, according to documents obtained by 10News. 

Capt. James Williams was in command at the scene of a fatal fire north of Lakeland in November where 76-year-old Loretta Pickard died.

Pickard was on the phone with a 911 operator waiting for a rescue that never came.

A 10News investigation revealed that Williams had not only from the scene of that fire but at least one other fire scene as well. Williams' actions violated county policy.

Related: Family of woman killed in fire claims fire captain had history of taking pictures at scenes

Documents obtained Wednesday by 10News show Williams would have been terminated at a disciplinary hearing the previous morning, but that he instead submitted his resignation.

Previous: Captain resigns after elderly woman dies in house fire

His resignation letter states:

“I Captain James Williams would like to submit my letter of resignation on this day March 12, 2019. Over the past 10 years, I must say that it has been a very interesting journey. I have learned a lot from many knowledgeable people. I have made a few mistakes along the way but none that has ever put a patient’s life or wellbeing in jeopardy. The media does what they do best and twist the truth for ratings not realizing what they are doing to the people that are out trying to save people’s lives day in and day out. PTSD is not the only thing that exists in the fire service; Depression is the most common thing that haunts most of the fire rescue personnel and will continue long after they retire. Life is hard but God does not give you things that you are incapable of handling. To my friends in the field continue to keep up the good work and keep your heads up there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”


 10News has also obtained the transcript of the testimony Williams gave investigators during the course of the investigation.

In a letter to Fire Chief Anthony Stravino, Assistant Fire Chief Rick Parnell cites three reasons for what would have been Williams’ dismissal.

Assistant Chief Parnell’s letter to Chief Stravino, dated March 11, said he had reviewed the evidence and reached a conclusion.

The conclusion:

“First, Captain Williams knowingly violated the Fire Rescue’s photography and digital imagery policy 109 on this occasion by capturing and texting a video of a fire scene. In addition, there is strong evidence, through his testimony, that Captain Williams has violated this policy and also fire rescue’s social media networking policy 108 on multiple occasions separate from this investigation.”

“Second, by creating unauthorized video and images, sharing them, and subsequently deleting them, Captain Williams violated Polk County public records policy.”

“Third, Captain Williams violated policy 109, and employee handbook policy 9.4, by declining to submit his phone for inspection during the investigation. By refusing to submit his phone, Captain Williams was insubordinate, and failed to comply with the code of conduct required to fully cooperate during an investigation.”

“Based upon the totality of the convincing evidence of these three violations and the seriousness of the violations, I recommend the immediate termination of Captain James Williams.”

Related: Firefighter inexperience, poor communication created 'perfect storm' during fatal fire

An outside organization conducting an independent investigation into the fire that killed Pickard wrapped up its review last week.

The results of that report are expected in about two weeks.

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