Janesville62.2°

Outgoing chief burned out over legal bickering

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Stacy Vogel
December 5, 2007
— John Gietzel used to enjoy firefighting.

After all, he spent 17 years as a volunteer with the Edgerton Fire Protection District.


But after six years as chief, he said he’s grown disillusioned by the bickering and egos on the fire district commission and among the volunteers.


The bickering has been especially intense over the last four years as three fired employees challenged the district in a lengthy court battle.


“It felt like I couldn’t move forward with all the fighting and bickering going on,” he said. “I basically became burnt out.”


That burnout is one of the reasons Gietzel gives for resigning as fire chief effective Jan. 12. The other reason is he’s moving to Roscoe, Ill.


Gietzel’s announcement comes the same week three full-time employees returned to work, following a Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission order issued in 2004. The fire district challenged the order in a series of appeals.


On Aug. 16, the Fourth Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, ordering the employees reinstated with back pay. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the case in November, effectively bringing the legal case to a close.


But Gietzel is not resigning because the employees were reinstated, he said. In fact, he said, he’s glad they’re coming back.


“I told (the employees) I wish them the best of luck, and I hope things work out for them,” he said.


Gietzel thought the firings were shortsighted and hopes the district settles quickly with the employees’ union, he said.


He’s also unhappy with the way the fire chief is selected, he said.


Currently, the volunteers elect the chief, but Gietzel believes the district should appoint a chief. Otherwise, chiefs are afraid to discipline the volunteers for fear they won’t be reelected, he said.


Commission Chairman Jim Linsley said he’s raised the idea with the commission, but it has yet to take action.


“The appointed chief thing is a good idea, but the district board has enough on their plate right now,” he said.


Linsley said the district will miss Gietzel’s firefighting knowledge and experience.


“He kind of lived and breathed (firefighting) for quite a while, so he had quite a substantial knowledge of firefighting and volunteer departments and the law regulating them,” Linsley said.


Gietzel’s resignation will not become official until the volunteers vote to accept it, which will probably happen Monday, said Lt. Adam Walton, public information officer with the department.


The volunteers already were scheduled to hold an officer election Jan. 12, which will go on as planned. Until then, Deputy Fire Chief Brian Demrow and Assistant Fire Chief Ryan Beckwith probably will share leadership, Walton said.


Gietzel said he will remain with the department “as a consultant” until the election.


“I wish everyone well, and I’ve had some good times and some bad times, but I’m looking forward to moving on with my life,” he said.



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