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GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Fire Department is facing an apparent revolt from members unhappy about changes in the department’s leadership made by the town board late last year. Ten members of …
GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Fire Department is facing an apparent revolt from members unhappy about changes in the department’s leadership made by the town board late last year. Ten members of the Greenwood Fire Department presented an unsigned letter to the town board at their Jan. 10 meeting, demanding the ouster of newly-appointed chief Jeff Maus from the department and that rank and file members be allowed to pick their own officers. Fire department members took a vote of no confidence in their leader at their Jan. 3 fire department training meeting.
“Failing that, the above-mentioned affirmative voting firefighters will no longer respond to 911 calls until those conditions are met,” the letter stated. “We deeply regret having to take this step, and the danger this poses to those citizens that we volunteer to protect, but the continued strength and even the very survival of this fire department is at risk.”
The letter also accused the board of the “unwarranted firing of Chief Fazio” and that the position was given to Maus solely because of his friendship with certain members on the board.
Fire department members lined the back wall of the town hall at the start of the meeting, with a half a dozen large duffle bags, presumably of fire department gear, stacked along a side wall greeting meeting attendees as they walked in.
Fire department member David DeJoode said he was “disgusted” with the actions of the town board.
“I may be naïve,” he said. “I am put in the position of serving the community. Individuals feelings should be set aside. I see an abuse of power. You need to serve the people, not your personal opinion. Due to this abuse of power and personal vendetta, Greenwood Township will be less safe tomorrow than it is right now.”
Town board members responded to this characterization of their actions, arguing that the dismissals of the former chief and assistant chief were justified.
“Those two people did not perform their duties and roles within their job description,” said Supervisor Rick Stoehr. “I heard bad mouthing of Jeff Maus for 10 years. He is the most competent…”
Stoehr was then interrupted by laughter from the fire department members assembled in the back of the hall.
“He has the qualifications,” said Stoehr. “Show me your credentials.”
Stoehr noted the problems that have been found in the fire hall and with fire department equipment.”
“It’s a mess,” Stoehr said, “It’s a piece of sh*t.”
Chairman Sue Drobac gaveled the meeting back to order.
“Everyone has their opinion,” she said. “How many of you people who have jobs got the chance to say who you wanted as your boss? You are employees.”
Supervisor Mike Ralston sided with the department rank and file.
“I don’t believe those on the board who made the decision to terminate have any knowledge of what it takes to manage the department.”
The vote last fall to removed Chief Fazio and Assistant Chief Mike Indihar was a 3-2 vote, with Ralston and Supervisor Paul Skubic voting against.
Fire department member Craig Gilbert told the board they need to listen to department members. “Those are the ones getting up in the middle of the night,” Gilbert said.
Drobac said the department serves the community. She added that the board appointed Maus based on his leadership training and experience.
Stoehr asked why other department members had not taken advantage of such training opportunities. Maus was the only department member who applied for the open fire chief spot.
Fire department member Tom Mortaloni said no other department members had applied in deference to the former officers.
Ralston asked Maus to voluntarily step down from the department, a motion that was seconded by Skubic.
“The actions of the board put the property owners of the township in a bad position,” Ralston said.
The vote failed 2-3, with Drobac, Stoehr, and Barb Lofquist voting against.
Ralston then moved that the voice recording of the Jan. 3 fire department meeting be posted on the township website. That motion passed, 3-2, with Stoehr joining Ralston and Skubic in the affirmative. Drobac said the recording would be available at the town hall. The township is currently seeking a new website provider.
During supervisor comments, Stoehr again asked rank and file department members to back up their complaints against Maus, including their “very serious claim of fear of personal safety.”
“There is nothing stated to substantiate this claim,” he said.
“What concerns me most,” Stoehr asked, “is if this statement is demonstrable, why has no action been taken until now? It’s up to the fire department to supply the documentation to support their statement, and to do so in a timely manner for review to determine the validity of their fear and now a claim of no confidence.”
Stoehr said these members are “walking for two people, not for the township.”
The assembled fire department members all left the meeting after it was clear the majority of the board was still in support of Maus as fire chief.
Other fire department actions
Fire Chief Jeff Maus singled out First Responders Kristal Strong and David DeJoode for their exceptional service in 2022. Both had responded to over 90 calls last year. Stoehr said the board should consider how these responders are being compensated.
“They are carrying the load,” Stoehr said. “We need to consider raising their compensation.”
The board terminated two fire department members who had not been active in the past year on a 4-1 vote with Ralston voting against. They both had been sent registered letters but neither had responded. They both will have the opportunity to rejoin the department after six months if they desire. The board accepted the resignation of member Mickey Scipioni.
The board hired Amber Nye as the fire department administrative assistant. She was the only applicant but Maus noted she had the office skills and a medical career background.
Drobac put forward a motion to terminate Mike Indihar from the fire department, with a second from Stoehr. She declined to give a reason stating “we don’t need to air dirty laundry here.” After the meeting, Stoehr said the decision to terminate was made after a discussion with the township attorney. The vote was 3-2 with Ralston and Skubic voting against.
“This is not the way to do things,” said Skubic.
The board also heard more suggested changes to fire department policies. Maus said he would like to combine the standard operating guidelines with the paid-on call policy, and also make sure they conform with the township’s personnel policies. Maus also said he would like to increase the required participation in trainings and calls up from the current guidelines.
“We need training all year,” he said, “and citizens need responses to calls.”
Department members are required to attend a specific number of meetings and calls to qualify for a pension credit each year. Maus said that there would be opportunities to make up training if a member couldn’t attend due to work commitments.
Reporting on the rest of the board’s actions at the meeting will be in next week’s paper.
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