The Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission has agreed to hear the formal grievances filed by two firefighters who were terminated last month by Egg Harbor Fire Chief Andy Staats.
Dan Kiehnau and his son, Dustin Kiehnau, received emails notifying them that the Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission would meet with them to hear their grievances on Sept. 28, starting at 6 pm.
The Kiehnaus were terminated by certified letters dated Aug. 17. Both believe the terminations were unjust and filed grievances in late August with Staats in accordance with the department’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) policy. Staats denied those grievances. The next step, according to the SOP policy, was to file their grievances with the Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission, which the Kiehnaus did earlier this month.
If the commission does not resolve the issue to the parties’ satisfaction, the SOP allows for a hearing before an impartial officer who would be selected by the Village of Egg Harbor and Town of Egg Harbor boards. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, the final step in the grievance process is to file an appeal with the Village of Egg Harbor and Town of Egg Harbor boards. Those bodies would make the final and binding decision for all parties.
The scheduled hearings follow the commission’s Sept. 16 meeting.
Another group of people, about half the size of the crowd that attended the August meeting at the Kress Pavilion, attended the commission’s Sept. 16 meeting at the Egg Harbor Town Hall. Audience members addressed the commission – two of them relatives of the Kiehnaus and one community member. The speakers questioned Staats’ leadership skills and the commission’s ability to handle the situation. They also asked that someone else be installed as chief. Staats is currently within a new chief’s six-month probationary period.
Neither Staats nor the commission members are commenting on the situation. The commission again went into closed session during the Sept. 16 meeting to talk about the personnel issues, emerging some 60 minutes later. Commission President Deb Wiegand said after reconvening in open session that they had received the grievances and were going to seek legal advice.
The turmoil within the department came to a head after the commission selected Staats as the new chief, effective July 1. Staats subsequently installed his brother, Jason Staats, as his second in command; and his wife, Ashley Staats, as captain/EMT crew chief – moves that caused the Kiehnaus and Lt. Terry Havel to request six-month leaves of absence in protest. Another fire department member, Nick Hutchins, had resigned effective July 1 over Staats’ appointment. The internal changes also pushed Dan Kiehnau out of the EMT crew chief position he’d held for the past 19 years.
Staats answered the requested leaves of absence by firing the Kiehnaus. He gave Havel a 30-day suspension and put him on probation for 180 days. Last week, Havel officially retired from the Egg Harbor Department after serving for 22 years. He still serves on the Ephraim Fire Department as assistant chief.