Local firefighter fighting to get her job back

Posted at 9:10 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 09:47:04-04

Hillary Sanford is the first female to become a driver engineer and fire captain in the history of the Brooksville Fire Department.

In her 11 years with the department, she has created several community fire and safety programs -- including the Firehouse birthday Party Program which allows families to have birthdays at the fire station for free. She also hosts all school visits.

“I go beyond my normal duties by reaching out to the community. It’s my job to put a face to what a firefighter is supposed to be,” Sanford said.  

Hillary started as a reserve firefighter. Her promotions to captain are a reward for her hard work. Last month, her dreams for a future within the department came crashing down. 

“This is what I’ve spent my entire adult life preparing for, working towards, obtaining certifications to progress and move up the chain... and they took it all away from me in a matter of minutes," Sanford said.  

According to documents Sanford showed us, she was fired for getting what’s known as a “Refusal of Care” document. This is the document signed by a patient who refuses to get taken by ambulance to the hospital, even though it's available. 

Sanford said she could have lost her EMT license if she didn’t get that document signed. 

“We work under a medical director that oversees the Brooksville Fire Department as well as Hernando County Fire Rescue. It is protocol that we are to get a Refusal of Care form on these we run on. In this case, the patient didn’t want to go to the hospital. I followed protocol to a T. "

But in October, Brooksville Fire Chief David Freda announced a new protocol which stated a Brooksville firefighter could only get a Refusal of Care form if the Hernando Fire Department wasn’t there.

In this case, the Hernando Fire Department was there. The two agencies respond to most calls together. 

“I thought that what I did was exactly what he wanted me to do. I was freeing up an advanced life support unit for the next call that would come into the city,” said Sanford.

The chief disagreed and fired Sanford. Sanford said out of the 11 years she’s been with the department, this was her first disciplinary action.

She took the case to the city manager, who upheld the decision. One of the reasons cited was that Sanford "intentionally violated an administrative order." 

Now, she’s filing a wrongful termination case, and the community is helping pay her legal fees through a GoFundMe page.

“I think it's testament to what I’ve done in the community. They wouldn’t be showing support for someone who hasn’t been out there and that they know personally,” Sanford said.

Sanford said she was up for a promotion and planned on applying for next district fire chief in June.

We reached out to both the fire chief and the city manager, and neither returned our calls. 

In addition to the GoFundMe page, members of the community have put together a fundraiser for Sanford at the Riverside Restaurant at 29250 Lake Lindsey Rd. in Nobleton, Florida.

It will be held on Sunday, May 22 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Members of the community are asked to wear lime green, which is the same color as the shirts made supporting Sanford.