With a crucial election looming, Key Peninsula's fire department fired one firefighter and disciplined three other employees Friday in response to an incident at a conference in which an underage volunteer allegedly got drunk and flooded a hotel bathroom.
Tom Lique, chief of Fire District No. 16, had the support of most fire commissioners Friday as he terminated 20-year-old volunteer firefighter Tim Nelson for his part in the episode at a Wenatchee hotel in June.
Lique also disciplined to varying degrees a battalion chief, a volunteer lieutenant and an office employee for not putting a stop to the young man’s drinking and for not disclosing the incident to fire district management.
The fate of the fifth employee who attended the gathering, also a batallion chief, remains undecided.
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Lique announced his recommendations at a special meeting Friday afternoon. Fire commissioners passed motions supporting them. The vote on each motion was 4-1, with Commissioner Allen Yan- ity voting no or not present, according to Lique.
The fire chief said the incident and resulting discipline come at the worst possible time.
On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to renew the tax levy that funds its emergency medical response. Lique said up to 14 employees, or half its paid workforce, could lose their jobs if the levy fails. None of the employees involved in the incident is in danger of losing his or her job if it fails, he said.
Lique said there’s a sentiment that the district keeps information from public view.
“I’m hoping the timeline here, as uncomfortable as it is, demonstrates that just because of the levy, I’m not trying to stonewall or hide this information,” he said.
Greg Glassie, a union officer representing the two career officers, said they will weigh their options provided by the labor contract. He declined further comment until they can review the information.
“We are all very distressed about the timing with the upcoming levy,” he said.
Glassie said he hopes voters will see the discipline in action and recognize “it’s not a broken organization that needs to be cut in half by a crippling failure of the levy”
Lique said he began hearing rumors after the conference and directed, with the authorization of fire commissioners, that the district’s attorney begin a formal investigation. The attorney presented his report to the chief July 30. Lique met with the employees Thursday to hear their side of the story.
Lique said the investigation found that four representatives of the fire district attended an annual training convention in Wenatchee two months ago. The firefighters attended on their own time. The district paid their expenses.
The firefighters included two battalion chiefs, Mike Riegle and Robert Bosch; a volunteer lieutenant, Doug Gelsleichter; and Nelson, a volunteer firefighter. On June 11, after the conference wrapped up for the day, the four went to the hotel lounge. They were joined by the office manager, Christina Bosch, who wasn’t registered for the convention.
Lique declined to release the 15-page investigative report to The News Tribune Friday. But according to his account of the findings:
Nelson got drunk, and the others reportedly didn’t act to stop him or remove him. Nelson later passed out or fell asleep in the shower of the hotel room with the water running and flooded the bathroom.
The hotel, which was notified when other guests reported water dripping, told the firefighters it wouldn’t assess charges because there was no damage and the same thing occurred the prior week with different guests.
The four employees later talked and decided to keep the incident quiet.
Christina Bosch didn’t participate in this conversation.
Lique said Friday their behavior violated the district’s code of conduct and represented a breach of the community’s trust.
“They need to be held responsible for that,” he said before the meeting.
Lique demoted Riegle to firefighter-paramedic, a reduction in salary of about 25 percent.
He suspended Gelsleitchter’s lieutenant rank, which he earned two days before the start of the conference, for one year. Gelsleitchter also is required to complete leadership training. After one year, Lique will determine whether to restore his rank. Gelsleitchter also was given a written reprimand.
Christina Bosch received a written reprimand for her failure to report the incident.
No decision was made on any discipline for Robert Bosch because he brought forward additional information that requires further investigation. Lique declined to elaborate.
The volunteer firefighters can file a grievance with the board, which supported Lique’s recommendation. The career employees can take their grievances to binding arbitration.