Unrest at the Egg Harbor Fire Department

Five members of the Egg Harbor Fire Department have requested six-month leaves of absence. 

“That in turn has left me light-staffed for response out of that station,” said Egg Harbor Fire Chief Andy Staats.

To assure continued coverage, he’s reached out to mutual-aid partners for assistance when needed. He said the remaining volunteer, paid-on-call department members are continuing normal operations and meeting all coverage needs. 

“I just want to assure the town and village that they do have a continued emergency response that will respond to any call in need,” Staats said.

The Egg Harbor Fire Department is a joint operation between the Village of Egg Harbor and the Town of Egg Harbor. It has two fire halls: one on County I north of Carlsville and the other on Harbor School Road within the Village of Egg Harbor. Of the department’s 33 members, eight are housed out of Station 1 on Harbor School Road. All five of the requested leaves come from that station. 

“There is and will be no closure of Station 1,” Staats said.  

Two of the leaves were requested by firefighters for personal reasons. The reasons for the other three requests have yet to be determined, Staats said.

Staats has served in the department for 23 years. He became fire chief effective July 1 when Steve Schopf retired June 30. The Egg Harbor Joint Fire Commission, which oversees the department, interviewed five candidates for the position. One of those candidates was fellow fire department member Ashley Staats, who is Andy Staats’ wife. 

Once appointed as chief, Andy Staats appointed Ashley Staats as captain/EMR crew chief. He also appointed his brother, Jason Staats, as assistant chief. Mark Bogenschutz is captain, and the two lieutenants are Terry Havel and Justin MacDonald. 

Staats stood by his decisions on the changes to the internal officer structure but believed those changes caused problems. He said he knew the promotion of Ashley Staats to captain “would come with resistance. I had much discussion with the fire commission on it. She applied for the chief position, and she has a whole lot of qualifications that made her appropriate to the position.”

Staats’ recommendations on the officer structure had to be authorized by the joint fire commission, which granted that authorization during its July 16 meeting, said Deborah Wiegand, president of the joint fire commission. The leaves-of-absence request came after that meeting, she said. Wiegand said they needed to find out the reason for the requests. Meanwhile, she said she has faith in the fire chief.

“I do know the department is completely solid,” she said. “There is complete response.”

In addition to the commission’s support, Staats said he felt he had the support of the majority within his department and the support of the town and village. The municipalities don’t oversee the fire department’s personnel, but Egg Harbor Village President John Heller said he sat in on the fire commission meeting when its members interviewed the fire chief candidates. He said Staats was “far and away the best choice.” 

Paul Peterson, chair of the Egg Harbor Town Board, said he’s “in the process of checking into stuff myself. I don’t know exactly what it’s all about.”

Staats said he couldn’t divulge the names of those who have requested the leaves of absence because it’s a personnel issue. Some are firefighters, and some are emergency-services personnel. He made a distinction between the requested leaves of absence – which could be for multiple reasons, such as medical or family issues – and flat-out resignations. 

“I have had zero resignations,” he said. 

Staats is still reviewing the leave-of-absence requests, and he said his decision won’t come for a week or so. Meanwhile, he’s trying to implement a more aggressive recruitment program, and past members of the department have also approached him with an interest in returning.

Wiegand said they would be taking up the matter during the joint fire commission’s August meeting. Personnel matters are often discussed during closed sessions, as allowed by Wisconsin’s open-meetings law, but decisions are made once the body reconvenes in an open session.