9 Investigates

Orange County fire battalion chief fired after using racial slur on the job

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — An Orange County fire battalion chief with two decades of experience was fired after the department said he used a racial slur at work.

But 9 Investigates discovered another top fire department leader got to keep his job after he made comments about standing on someone’s neck to get work done.

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According to department records, both men, Robert Izzo and Mike Wajda, originally told investigators they didn’t remember either making the comments, or the details behind them.

Both are in leadership and management positions, which makes them people who the department has told us previously have a greater responsibility to make sure their actions are above reproach and must guard themselves against the perception of any inappropriate behavior.

Izzo was fired over a conversation around the dinner table that went awry. Izzo said he used the racial slur while recalling a story from his childhood.

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Investigators wanted to know more, but the former battalion chief said he could only remember using the racial slur.

“I have an extremely bad memory if you look at my office, I have notes all over my office,” Izzo said.

It is possible that Izzo could appeal his termination.

In an unrelated incident, Division Chief Mike Wajda suggested battalion chiefs “stand on lieutenants necks,” if needed to gain compliance to get work done.

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Wajda told investigators he didn’t remember saying it, but later wrote in a letter that he was not trying to refer to any current social issues.

A Black man, George Floyd died this summer when a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Wadja, who was appointed by the previous fire chief, received non-disciplinary counseling.

A spokesperson said the department didn’t feel his comments were racially motivated.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.