Another one suspended, demoted and put on probation
Two Egg Harbor firefighters have been fired from the Egg Harbor Fire Department and another suspended.
The letters of termination, dated Aug. 17, were sent by certified mail to Dan Kiehnau and his son, Dustin.
The two had requested six-month leaves of absence in July after the new fire chief, Andy Staats, promoted his wife, Ashley, to the position of captain/EMT crew chief and his brother, Jason, to assistant chief. The internal changes also pushed Dan Kiehnau out of the EMT crew chief position he’d held for the past 19 years.
The Kiehnaus requested their leaves by letter to the Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission. Those letters got them fired. They were critical of the chief and his decisions and therefore violated Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) policy regarding “personal conduct” and “conduct toward others,” according to the termination letters the Kiehnaus received from Staats. Additionally, Dan Kiehnau’s termination letter cited the way he had handled his demotion from his 19-year EMT crew chief position before Ashley Staats replaced him.
Terry Havel also requested a six-month leave of absence. His letter requesting the leave was also critical of the chief and his decision to promote family members. Yet Havel was not terminated. He was suspended for 30 days, stripped of his lieutenant status and put on probation for 180 days.
Staats made the decisions himself without the need for Joint Fire Commission approval. He said he could not comment because the situation was ongoing.
“The department is under scrutiny, and I understand why,” he said. “But the department is there to keep moving forward in the direction I’ve chosen to go, and there’s enough support there that I’m confident that we’ll get through this as a department.”
Randy Nesbitt, attorney for the Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission, said his interpretation of the fire department’s SOP was that the fire chief had the authority to make decisions about employment and discipline without the need for the Joint Fire Commission’s approval.
Havel said he didn’t know what he would do next, but the Kiehnaus have started the grievance process allowed in the SOP. The first step in that process is a letter to the fire chief, which they said they’ve already sent.
If that doesn’t solve the grievance, the firefighters could appeal to the Joint Fire Commission, and after that, to an impartial hearing officer selected by the town and village boards. If all of those measures fail to resolve the issue, the Town and Village of Egg Harbor boards would make the final and binding decision for all parties.
The Kiehnaus said they’ll see the grievance process through to the end. Meanwhile, they joined the Baileys Harbor Fire Department last week.
“Basically, to keep going,” Dan Kiehnau said. “I don’t care what department you’re on – I’m not driving by an accident scene without helping.”
Brian Zak, chief of the Baileys Harbor Fire Department, said the Kiehnaus would help him fill in the area on the western edge of his territory.
“They’re both fully qualified, come with all the credentials both for EMS and firefighting, and if they wanted to stay in public service, I’d be foolish not to take them,” Zak said.