By Ann Rowland
A failure to act has put the jobs of five Milwaukee firefighters in jeopardy following an internal investigation into an incident at Milwaukee Fire Department Engine 32 fire station back in September 2013. In a story on the Bright.com last October, it was reported that several of the firefighters were disgruntled by a command change and faced reassignment to other posts around the city. They apparently took out their frustration by vandalizing firehouse equipment and even relieving themselves in public areas of the station house.
Nine firefighters were immediately suspended following the incident. Soon thereafter, two probationary firefighters, Nathan Fagar and Joey Seigert were fired and two others retired. Fagar and Seigert began an online petition campaign to restore their jobs, believing they were used as “scapegoats” and were not involved in the incident. They continue to maintain their innocence.
The internal investigation “….has recommended to the Fire Chief that he discharge five members….for failing to prevent or report….extensive vandalism and disorder.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has not yet read the report but he told WISN-12, Milwaukee “Well, I think that all taxpayers, the citizens of Milwaukee are disappointed because we expect professionalism from the men and women who work for the fire department.”
However, Barrett does not believe that this is reflective of the fire department in general. “The vast majority of people who work for the fire department are wonderful public servants. But in those instances like this one, where people were not acting professionally, there has to be consequences,” the mayor said.
The fire department has yet to release complete details of what happened that night or to identify the firefighters involved other than the two probationary officers who were terminated. Fagar and Seigert are awaiting the release of the report and would not comment on the recommendations of termination for the five firefighters. No fire department officials publicly commented on the report.
At the time of their termination, Fagar told WTMJ-Milwaukee “I think they need to look at all aspects of what really happened and who did what.” Although the fire chief does have the discretion to overturn the terminations of Fagan and Seigert, it appears less likely that will happen in light of the most recent recommendations coming out of the internal investigation. Not being involved in the actual vandalism does not protect firefighters who did not act to prevent or report the vandalism.
The five who have been recommended for termination have one week to present information to the fire chief before he makes his decision as to what disciplinary action to take. The full report stemming from the investigation is likely to be released once that decision has been made.