Winter Park firefighter dies after years of secret drug use, officials say

WINTER PARK, Fla. — A Winter Park firefighter who served the community for 25 years died of an overdose after stealing and using drugs meant to sedate patients in the back of an ambulance, 9 Investigates learned.

A.J. Isaacs, 47, was a husband and a father. His colleagues described him as a respected member of the fire community. He was an emergency medical services captain.

9 Investigates uncovered there were few safeguards in place to keep tabs on the number of narcotics going in and out of his fire station because he alone oversaw the inventory process.  His access and control over the storing of the drugs allowed him to divert drugs, and led to an addiction that even his closest colleagues didn’t see.


“It was rough.  It's still difficult to accept, No. 1, that he's not with us anymore, but secondarily, how he ended up passing,” Winter Park Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn started within a year of Isaacs at the department, where they both grew their careers. Despite considering him one of his closest colleagues, Hagedorn said no one knew Isaacs was concealing drug use that was enabled by his unsupervised access to the drug inventory at Fire Station 61.

“We look back now, in retrospect, and realize there was a flaw in the system,” Hagedorn said.

Isaacs was in charge of almost all removal and replacement of drugs from a secure storage box in the fire station.  Isaacs was also one of just three people who had a master key to a vending system that stored those drugs, and he also had access to the computer system, which gave him the ability to manipulate the total number of vials that were shown available.

A posthumous audit comparing the drugs that were purchased to the drugs that went out on actual calls shows Isaacs was able to manipulate the system and obtain at least 742 vials of morphine, Versed, Valium and ketamine from 2016 to 2018.

In addition to full vials, investigators determined that toward the end, he was skimming portions of vials with syringes and then covering the caps with stickers that he implemented as part of inventory procedures to cover his tracks.

When asked how this was missed, Hagedorn said: “That’s a question we have struggled with, and quite honestly, spread out over 36 months, it was a staggering number.  But he was in charge of the inventory control.”

Investigators noted that during the three-year period, there were many occasions that the number of narcotics removed from the primary drug storage box far exceeded the number needed for restocking and that software allowed the manipulation of stock numbers at any point, making tracking inaccurate and incomplete.

“Having another system in place today going forward would've been ideal,” Hagedorn said.  “It was an addiction piece we were not aware of, and unfortunately, his addiction drove him to divert medications from the agency.”

Isaacs was out on workers' compensation at the time of his death, but the police investigation found he accessed the station just a few hours before his overdose.  Investigators believe he accessed the drug storage area at that time.  Autopsy results show Isaacs overdosed on a mixture of Versed and ketamine.

“Hindsight being 20/20, of course we've put measures in place now that doubles the amount of verification of personnel,” Hagedorn said.

In addition to double verification of inventory, proximity cards and keys have been changed to limit the number of people who have access to where the drugs are stored.  Instead of monthly audits of the vials, there is now a daily count done to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

“He wasn't a bad guy.  He was a person who had an illness of addiction, and he hid it from all of us.  None of us ever suspected, even though we worked very close with him, and I just wish we had a chance to get him the help he needed.  He would still be with us today,” Hagedorn said.

Isaacs’ family did not want to comment to WFTV.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray,

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.