ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Matt McMahon is a proud U.S. Marine who wanted to continue serving the community. So he applied to work as a firefighter with Orange County Fire Rescue.
He was hired in 2006. He enjoyed his career until he was terminated in 2021 after struggles with PTSD.
“I became a firefighter and an EMT, which is exactly what my pre-employment contract states, so I was not a paramedic [when I started],” he said.
McMahon wanted to do more after years of watching his fellow firefighters put their own lives on the line to help people in the community in life-or-death situations. According to an agency spokesperson and historical data, most fire rescue calls are for medical emergencies, not fires.
“Orange County Fire Rescue is one of the largest pre-hospital care providers in Central Florida. In an effort to align with the community’s needs and provide a higher level of medical expertise to Orange County’s residents and visitors, the department provides a career path to become a Firefighter/Paramedic within 36 months,” a spokesperson told us in a statement.
A spokesperson said that the department currently has 747 firefighters and 614 paramedics. On average the training costs the department about $9,000.
But McMahon said he paid for his own training required to add paramedic to his credentials.
According to a lawsuit he has filed against the county, it required an additional 52 weeks of training and more than 100 clinical hours learning to perform advanced medical techniques, setting him apart from EMTs who are trained in basic life support.
But over time, he told Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones that coming face to face with horrifying medical scenes was just too much.
“It was a 19-year-old kid, who had decided to take his own life. My son was probably at that point 14, just started his high school years,” McMahon said.
And then a few years later, he said he was triggered again by several more calls involving tragic deaths of children, including an infant.
“I remember becoming increasingly more anxious with my son,” McMahon said.
McMahon said he finally decided to take his concerns to his supervisors. In February of 2021, according to the lawsuit, he requested an accommodation by dropping his paramedic title and resuming his original title and duties as a Firefighter/EMT.
The lawsuit states that initially the department approved his request, but then abruptly changed course.
“Instead of proceeding with [an] interactive process and discussing other options or accommodations, he was charged with violations of county policy, operational regulations, OCFR rules, and standard operating procedures,” Attorney Rachel Rodriguez wrote.
He was eventually terminated but re-instated through the grievance process. A settlement agreement was reached, but McMahon was terminated again when he refused to work a shift he was assigned as a paramedic. By then, he was also going through therapy and then eventually diagnosed with PTSD by a licensed clinician at UCF. UCF is the same university the county has partnered with to help first responders cope with mental health.
“It wasn’t necessarily me I was worried about, it was the citizens of Orange County,” McMahon said, as he stressed to us that his only goal is just to go back to being an EMT only.
A spokesperson for the county wouldn’t talk specifically about McMahon’s lawsuit, but provided this statement:
“Orange County Fire Rescue is one of the largest pre-hospital care providers in Central Florida. In an effort to align with the community’s needs and provide a higher level of medical expertise to Orange County’s residents and visitors, the department provides a career path to become a Firefighter/Paramedic within 36 months. This opportunity not only allows individuals to obtain their Paramedic Certification at no out-of-pocket expense but is further incentivized by an increase in compensation upon completion. Orange County Fire Rescue invests in this program as part of its commitment to continue providing full-service emergency medical services, in addition to world-class fire rescue services, to Orange County, Florida.”
In a follow-up email a spokesperson also said that all firefighters hired after March 2015 by way of the pre-employment agreement are expected to become a certified paramedic within three years. McMahon was hired in 2006.
“That one time I ask for help, not asking for a dime, not wanting to medically separate and take 30 grand or whatever they’re giving out, I just want to go back to being an EMT … ‘we don’t care about him,’ that’s how I felt,” McMahon said.
Fire Rescue operates as a paramilitary organization, and we have seen others in this agency fired for not following direct orders. McMahon has a hearing scheduled this month that could determine if he gets his job back once again.
It’s important to note that as part of the settlement agreement after his first terminated, he had to reinstate his paramedic license.
However, according to the lawsuit, nothing prevented him from filing for a hearing to drop the license because of his PTSD.
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