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Two more top PBC Fire Rescue admins gone: Hoch fired, Tolbert resigns

Two more top Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials are gone from the department two weeks after Chief Jeffrey Collins resigned.

“Today, Palm Beach County Interim Fire Rescue Administrator Michael Mackey terminated Division Chief Chris Hoch’s employment and accepted Deputy Chief Thomas Tolbert’s resignation,” Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Albert Borroto announced in an email Thursday afternoon.

The email does not give a reason for Hoch’s or Tolbert’s departures and Borroto did not return a call requesting comment late Thursday.

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Mackey was tapped as interim chief this month by County Administrator Verdenia Baker after Collins submitted his resignation on Jan. 12 amid criticism of his handling of sexual harassment complaints in the department. Collins later tried to rescind his resignation, with his attorney saying Collins had been “coerced” into resigning.

The Palm Beach Post reported in December that Hoch, chief of the operations division, was reprimanded in early 2017 for violating county policy after a female subordinate, Fire Rescue Capt. Amanda Vomero, complained in 2015 that he made inappropriate sexual comments about her and repeated “rumors” she was having sex with her supervisor.

Hoch has denied all of the allegations against him.

Efforts to reach Tolbert were unsuccessful.

Vomero filed a lawsuit against the department and the county government last month alleging she “has been forced to deal with numerous instances of inappropriate, unprofessional, discriminatory, harassing and retaliatory actions and comments made by a limited number of coworkers and superior officers.”

Vomero’s lawsuit claims she was subject to “retaliatory actions of Hoch and Tolbert” and alleges the county “was aware Plaintiff had complained through her chain of command about the sexually discriminatory and harassing behavior she was subjected to by Chiefs Hoch and Tolbert…but did nothing to prevent said behavior from continuing to occur.”

Vomero’s lawsuit says she told Collins in 2015 that teasing by Hoch had “become personal in nature,” and “Collins responded by telling Plaintiff she was blowing it out of proportion, and that it was just ‘good humor, firehouse fun.’”

Vomero’s 2015 complaints about harassment and retaliation led to an internal investigation that resulted in the February written reprimand that Hoch, described in a county document as the third highest ranking official in Fire Rescue, had violated county policy against discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Vomero’s supervisor, Administration Division Chief Joey Cooper, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit last May claiming Collins and other Fire Rescue officials retaliated against him for giving a statement in support of Vomero during the Office of Equal Opportunity investigation of Vomero’s complaint against Hoch.

Mackey will be naming successors to Hoch and Tolbert “in the coming days,” according to the email by department spokesman Borroto.

“Please be assured that the day-to-day operations will continue to focus on providing the highest quality services to our citizens without interruption. Please carry on performing your duties and responsibilities with the level of professionalism and integrity our citizens expect and deserve,” Borroto’s email said.

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