Updated: 05-30-2003 12:26:59 AM

Two Florida Firefighters Lose Jobs Over Hazing Incident

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SALLIE JAMES
Courtesy of Sun Sentinel.com

CORAL SPRINGS -- Two Coral Springs firefighters accused of tying up firefighter Krystyna Krakowski in a hazing incident last February were fired Wednesday, while four other firefighters received suspensions and demotions, City Manager Michael Levinson announced.

"There is no excuse for this egregious behavior, and there's no substitute for common sense, respect and professional judgment," Levinson said. He acknowledged the terminations and suspensions will create hardship in a department whose ranks are already stretched thin, but said the city had little choice. The fire department is short nine firefighters, plus it will temporarily lose four more with the suspensions.

Fired are Justin Parrinello, 26, a firefighter/paramedic and SWAT medic hired in November 1999; and Chris Meyer, 30, a fire inspector who had worked for the city since August 2000. According to a city memo, an on-duty Parrinello left his zone without notifying dispatch to participate in the hazing, during which he wore a hood. A ski mask-clad Meyer bound Krakowski's ankles with plastic handcuffs during the incident, said city documents. Neither could be reached for comment late Wednesday.

In addition, two lieutenants, Michael Matz, 34, and John Agostinelli, 36, were demoted to the ranks of firefighter/paramedic and were suspended without pay for six shifts, or 144 hours. Matz's salary will drop from $48,442 to $43,553 while Agostinelli's salary will drop from $54,806 to $49,920, according to city records.

The discipline is meant to send a message to the rank and file that such behavior will not be tolerated, Levinson said. The city has a zero tolerance policy for hazing, he said. The case has drawn national attention, and numerous Web sites related to the fire service have carried news of the Coral Springs incident.

Matz, the on-duty supervisor, was demoted for failing to provide aid quickly and report the incident to his commander, a memo said. Agostinelli, who sounded an airhorn during the incident, was demoted for failing to stop subordinate firefighters from participating in the hazing, according to the city. Both violated several other procedures, according to the city.

Firefighter/paramedic Dan Doherty, 30, and firefighter/EMT Damon France, 30, were both suspended without pay for four shifts, or 96 hours, for participating in "pranks or antics which disrupt the normal work routine or create a risk of danger to the safety of others," a city memo said.

"There are really no winners in this whole thing," said Lt. Chris Bator, president of Coral Springs Local 3080. "Krystyna is a member of our union, and she is affected, and the other guys were great employees for many years and they have saved a lot of lives. It's unfortunate for everybody. The fire department and city of Coral Springs both lose."

Fire Chief Donald Haupt Jr. said the discipline "was necessary to do the right thing." All six have until 5 p.m. on Friday on to appeal their cases to the city and be heard by a predetermination hearing board, Haupt said.

The punishment comes more than three months after the Feb. 22 hazing of Krakowski, 28, a probationary firefighter who was roused from her sleep in the bunkroom of fire station No. 71 at 1800 NW 41st St. by five male co-workers, four wearing hooded masks.

According to police, the firefighters threw a blanket over Krakowski's head, bound her ankles with plastic handcuffs and tried binding her wrists. The five fled the fire station when Krakowski struggled.

Krakowski's attorney, Joe Carter, said the ordeal had been extremely upsetting for his client, who declined to be interviewed. "She feels bad these people lost their jobs, but it wasn't her decision," Carter said. "She is sorry the whole thing happened."

Carter blamed lax management for permitting such pranks to go on.

"Horseplay and laughs escalated into handcuffs and hoods. The city let things get out of hand over there," Carter said. "It's a shame."

Police investigating the incident as a possible false imprisonment/battery turned it over to the Broward State Attorney's Office, but state investigators closed the case after Krakowski declined to file criminal charges.

The six fire department employees had been on paid suspension since April 22, when state investigators turned the case over to city administrators for review.

Krakowski, on administrative leave since mid-March, returned to work on May 7.

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