The City of Turlock fired Turlock Fire Chief Robert Talloni during a closed session Friday afternoon.
The City declined to state a reason why Talloni was fired, other than that it was a personnel issue. In a news release the City said the termination would be effective as of July 1 and expressed thanks to “Chief Talloni for his service and wishes him well in his future endeavors.”
“It is a personnel matter and decision handled by our city manager,” said Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak.
The decision to terminate Talloni’s employment with the city was made by Turlock City Manager Robert Lawton. In December 2018, the City Council voted unanimously to grant the city manager power to appoint, remove, promote or demote any city employee, including department heads, without having to get consent from the City Council. The only exceptions are for the City Attorney and the City Manager. On Thursday afternoon the City of Turlock sent out a notice of a special meeting set for Friday. The lone action item on the agenda was for a closed session to discuss the “discipline, dismissal or release” of the fire chief. The vote in the closed session to back Lawton’s decision was 4-1, with Councilmember Nicole Larson casting the lone dissention.
The move to fire Talloni was met with disappointment and ire from the firefighters union, Turlock Firefighters Local #2434, which posted about the termination Thursday on social media. The union described Talloni’s firing as political payback and blamed it on the “bean counters.”
The union’s statement reads:
“Turlock Fire Chief Robert Talloni has been terminated by the City of Turlock.
“Since his arrival in Turlock, Chief Talloni and your Turlock Firefighters have stood side by side, fighting for the safety of the citizens of this community.
“Central to this fight has been the ongoing plot by bean counters in city hall scheming to reduce the number of firefighters protecting this city and gamble with public safety.
“Chief Talloni stood up against these dangerous schemes and continued to fight for your safety and the safety of Turlock Firefighters. Today Chief Talloni paid the price for that fight.
“Thank you Chief Talloni for your unwavering dedication to the safety of Turlock.
“Turlock Firefighters are outraged by this blatant attack on public safety. We will continue the fight for this community... we are dedicated to the citizens we serve.”
Talloni joined the Turlock Fire Department In 2015, becoming the 11th chief to take the helm in the department’s 111-year history.
His career began in 1982 with the City of Norwalk in Connecticut, where he rose to the rank of Deputy Fire Chief. In 2010 he became the Fire Chief for the City of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. In 2013, he accepted an instructor’s position at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he provided instruction and training for leaders in fire service from across the country.
Talloni earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of New Haven in 1988 and a Master of Public Administration from the University of New Haven in 2013.
At the time of his hiring, then City Manager Roy Wasden praised Talloni as being a “standout leader with national experience and is exactly the leader we need for our community and the Turlock Fire Department.”
Former Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth said on his social media that one of his “highest honors as Mayor [was] to pin the badge on Chief Bob Talloni.
“It’s a sad day for Turlock’s firefighters and the entire community,” Soiseth said.
Talloni served as the interim city manager for an extended period of time and both he and Soiseth have been the focus of criticism for overspending and drawing down the general fund. Now, the City has taken several steps to decrease expenditures, including “browning out” fire stations.
Lawton named Division Chief of Operations Gary Carlson as Turlock’s Interim Fire Chief. Carlson is a 22-year veteran of the fire department and a second-generation Turlock firefighter. Carlson was promoted to Captain in 2005, to Battalion Chief in 2009 and to Division Chief of Operations in June 2016.
Carlson is a lifelong resident of Turlock and a graduate of Turlock High School. He earned a bachelor of science degree in Business Administration from CSU Sacramento.
Carlson hails from a family long active in the fire service, including his father, retired Turlock Fire Chief Bob Carlson. Bob Carlson capped a 30-year career with the department as chief from 1991-96. Ticking off other family members in fire careers, he said the family has roughly 100 years of fire service among them.