Two firefighters have gone as far as they intend to go with grievances filed against the Egg Harbor Fire Department.
Dan Kiehnau and his son, Dustin, filed grievances against Fire Chief Andy Staats after Staats terminated them as a result of their requests for a six-month leave of absence.
The two requested the leaves in protest over the nepotism that Staats created when, after his July 1 appointment as chief, he selected his brother, Jason, as assistant chief; and his wife, Ashley, as captain/EMS crew chief. Another firefighter quit over Staats’ appointments, and a fourth has retired over the leadership decisions.
Staats denied the Kiehnaus’ grievances. The next step, according to the department’s Standard Operating Procedure, would be taking the matter to the Joint Egg Harbor Fire Commission, which oversees the department’s operations.
The commission heard the Kiehnaus’ grievances Sept. 28. A few days later, they both received letters indicating that their grievances had been denied. The reasons for the denial were that the “allegations made by Chief Staats appear to be the facts of the incidents,” according to the letters. “In addition, the Fire Commission feels that it is important they support the reasonable and necessary actions of the fire chief.”
The next step would be working with an independent arbitrator selected by both the town and village boards. Instead, at this point, Dan Kiehnau said they’re calling it quits.
“We believe that even if it goes through an arbitrator that we will not get the justice that we are looking for,” he said.
Specifically, the two believed the only way to get the department back on track was to remove the Staatses from their positions. The Kiehnaus and other members of the department claim the Staatses have been sources of conflict and tension within the department for years.
“We regret having to leave our community in the service we have provided for 25-plus years, but we feel it’s time for us to move on with the departments that do want us,” Dan Kiehnau said.
The father and son have since joined the Baileys Harbor Fire Department.
“When other towns and villages recognize our experience and training and welcome it with open arms, we really don’t view this as a loss for us,” Dustin Kiehnau said. “It is, however, a loss for the Town and Village of Egg Harbor, whether or not they want to acknowledge it.”
Dan Kiehnau served the Egg Harbor department for more than 25 years, the past 19 as EMS crew chief. Dustin Kiehnau had been a member of the department for the past decade.
“I would like to thank every one of our friends and neighbors in the Egg Harbor community, as well as all of Door County and beyond, who have supported us throughout this process,” Dustin Kiehnau said. “Everyone who has taken time to write letters and even stand up to speak on our behalf. They realize that the fire and EMS is often a ‘thankless’ job. For all of them to stand by us while we are getting torn down makes it all worth it. That’s what this is all about. This is Door County, and we are all supposed to have each other’s backs.”
Neither the fire chief nor the fire commission responded to a request to comment for this story.