Those who believe the Joint Egg Harbor Fire Department Commission made a mistake by selecting Chief Andy Staats and want that decision reversed before the chief’s six-month probationary period ends in December have ratcheted up the pressure on Staats and the commission.
The Village of Egg Harbor and the Town of Egg Harbor were scheduled to discuss the department and the commission during their joint meeting Dec. 9, 6 pm, after the deadline for this issue of the paper.
The increased pressure has come in the form of a petition circulated online on change.org for the “removal of Andy Staats as Egg Harbor fire chief.” The petition – circulated for two weeks starting Oct. 18 – generated 459 signatures, the majority of those by residents and business owners who live in Egg Harbor or somewhere within Door County.
Connie Toneys, who started the petition, said she started thinking about it after complaints to the fire commission at a meeting in August “seemed to fall on deaf ears.”
“After the grievance hearings that went nowhere, myself, along with several other nonrelated community members, were just blown away that the fire commission is this irresponsible.”
Toneys is the daughter and sister of two of the firefighters, Dan and Dustin Kiehnau, respectively, who were fired Aug. 17 after requesting leaves of absence and expressing their disapproval of Staats’ appointment to the fire commission by email.
Staats was selected to begin July 1 as the replacement for retired Fire Chief Steve Schopf. Staats then installed his brother, Jason Staats, as assistant chief; and removed Dan Kiehnau to install his wife, Ashley Staats, as third in command, or captain/EMS crew chief.
Cries of nepotism and expressions of concern about Staats’ leadership abilities have come from nonrelated community members and from at least three other department members beyond the Kiehnaus who have quit since Staats’ appointment.
One of the people asking questions and advocating change is Cambria Mueller, an Egg Harbor Village resident and village Plan Commission member who works as the community advocacy manager for Destination Door County.
Mueller wants the fire commission to extend the fire chief’s probationary period until the issues within the department are resolved. Her motivation, she said, is safety.
“We live in the village, and we have a very active family with two small boys, so the chances of us needing some form of medical attention are a little bit higher,” Mueller said.
She asked for statistics about departmental operations, including emergency-response times, the number of members in the department and their individual response rates and years of service.
“I realized as soon as I started asking questions, walls went up,” Mueller said. “As a village taxpayer, there shouldn’t be those walls. It should be transparent. It’s frustrating. I try to be very involved with the village happenings, but it’s exhausting when you have to pay such close attention for something as basic as safety.”
Mueller Zoomed into the Joint Egg Harbor Fire Department Commission’s Nov. 18 meeting and asked additional questions about attendance at fire department meetings and training sessions.
“This is a good conversation to have with the chief,” said fire commission President Debbie Wiegand.
“I’d prefer it to be on the record,” Mueller responded.
“This is a time for you to say what’s on your mind, not a Q&A,” Wiegand said.
“I’m a taxpayer, and that’s what’s on my mind,” Mueller said.
Mueller was not the only one asking questions. Egg Harbor Village Board President John Heller asked about response times – which average eight to 12 minutes, Staats said – and Commissioner Bill Edwards asked about fire-training and officer-meeting attendance, training schedules, and EMR reports that were “conspicuously absent and have been for a long time,” Edwards said.
Use of the fire department’s command vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, was also discussed. Some have criticized Staats for using it as a personal vehicle to commute to work in Sturgeon Bay and installing a child seat into the back seat. Staats said whoever has the vehicle is “dedicating their life to responding when the pager goes off. Whoever has that Tahoe is dedicating themselves to the community.”
Former Fire Chief Steve Schopf, who is also an elected Egg Harbor Town Board supervisor, said the vehicle’s user is supposed to have the vehicle with him or her at all times, whether at work or the grocery store, to ensure speedy arrival when staging scenes or calling off false alarms.
“That was the plan when it was purchased and put into service,” he said.
Ashley Staats also defended her husband’s daily use of the vehicle.
“I know there is concern because he works in Sturgeon Bay and brings it there,” she said, but his company allows him to leave at the sound of the pager. In the event of a bridge delay, the command vehicle “allows the chief to safely maneuver to the front of the line and get through traffic as soon as the bridge goes down.”
Finally, Commissioner Clarence Scherer asked that the commission members review the fire department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), paying special attention to those that pertain to the fire chief’s powers over department members. The commission is expected to begin taking up the SOPs at its December meeting, which is typically held the third Thursday of the month.