Job in Jeopardy for Fla. Responder Forbidden to Drive Ambulance

Job in Jeopardy for Fla. Responder Forbidden to Drive Ambulance

News Jan 11, 2013

A Pasco Fire Rescue captain may lose his job after an Indiana court convicted him Tuesday of driving drunk.

David Garofalo, 36, was sentenced in a Marion County, Ind., courthouse to one day in jail and nearly $1,000 in fines for an incident that happened in May. Garofalo, who was also a North Port city commissioner at the time, flipped his car in a ditch. According to a report from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Garofalo was there with Elizabeth Jacobs, a North Port woman who told an officer they were there for her grandmother's funeral. Garofalo was married at the time, though his wife, Dawn Garofalo, filed for divorce 17 days after the crash, court records state.

Jacobs called Garofalo her "boyfriend" and told the officer they began arguing after drinking at a bar. She got out of their car at a traffic signal and began walking, the report states. Then he drove off the road and overturned, but was able to crawl out of the car, authorities said. Garofalo told an officer he'd had "at least five beers" before getting behind the wheel. Garofalo performed so poorly on the sobriety test, actually falling at one point, the officer stopped the test for Garofalo's safety, the report said.

"I'm a human being, not a perfect person," Garofalo told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune shortly after the arrest. "I would like to try and get past it."

Garofalo, who lost his city commissioner re-election bid this fall, did not return a message left on his cellphone Wednesday by the Times. The court sentenced him to a year in jail - but suspended 363 of those days and gave him credit for the one day he previously served.

Garofalo has been with Pasco Fire Rescue since April 27, 1998, and makes an annual salary of $70,855, said Pasco County personnel director Barbara DeSimone. Garofalo made headlines in 2007 when he laid his department-issued polo shirt on a South Carolina memorial after nine firefighters died in a warehouse inferno. Garofalo was reprimanded for giving away county property - the shirt was worth $23.95. News of this caused a storm of support for Garofalo from the community.

DeSimone said Florida statute says someone with a DUI conviction cannot drive an ambulance for three years.

"If you can't drive an ambulance, you're not working here," DeSimone said. "In an emergency, anybody needs to be able to jump in."

Pasco Fire Rescue assistant chief Cynthia Holland reiterated the policy that, no matter how high a person's rank, everyone at Pasco Fire Rescue has to be able to drive an ambulance.

Holland said Garofalo, a licensed paramedic and EMT, has been on light duty status since his arrest in May. This means he worked in an office and was not allowed to drive county vehicles. Holland said Garofalo was at work on Monday and was off Tuesday and Wednesday. When he returns, she said the process of confirming the Indiana conviction will begin.

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"We will review the paperwork and move forward from there," Holland said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

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Tampa Bay Times
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