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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood fire department ready for some changes

Jodi Summit
Posted 11/18/22

GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board appointed Jeff Maus as the Greenwood Fire Chief on a split vote at their regular November meeting. He was the only person who applied for the job.

Maus is a …

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Greenwood fire department ready for some changes

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GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board appointed Jeff Maus as the Greenwood Fire Chief on a split vote at their regular November meeting. He was the only person who applied for the job.

Maus is a longtime firefighter and First Responder, with over 16 years of experience, and was acting as the interim chief. He served as a captain in the department from 2010-2014. He also completed the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training’s Officer Leadership classes at Camp Ripley, with coursework in leadership, human resources, marketing, and finance. He holds certifications as Fire Officer II and Fire Instructor II and is up to date on his EMR training and refreshers.

“How can we nominate someone who does not have the trust as respect of the department?” asked Supervisor Paul Skubic. Department members had picketed the town board meeting in October over the issue of department leadership.

Chairman Sue Drobac said that ten department members had showed up for training this month.

“I don’t think it is a problem anymore,” she said.

“It’s been a change in the culture,” added Supervisor Barb Lofquist.

“We don’t have anyone with the credentials Jeff has,” said Supervisor Rick Stoehr. “When I went to work at U.S. Steel, I didn’t get to vote for my boss.”

Stoehr said the department is working on training the newer and younger members with the skills they need to become leaders in the future.

“We are here for the common good,” Stoehr said. “I am responsible to the people who elected me. This is a serious situation, and it is time to make corrections.”

Supervisor Mike Ralston again brought up the issue that Maus has filed claims against the township.

“He still has two outstanding claims against the township,” Ralston said. “He has filed six so far and four were denied.”

Ralston said Maus should sign an affidavit stating he would no longer file any frivolous claims.

“He has cost this township a lot of cash and has never prevailed.”

Drobac said Maus should not be penalized for trying to make the department safer. She also said the township had lost one of the claims and had paid a settlement to Maus.

“He is exercising his constitutional rights,” said Stoehr.

Maus reviewed the history of his claims, noting they stemmed from safety concerns he had raised as a department officer.

“I brought them to the attention of the officers,” Maus said. “Shortly thereafter they decided to eliminate my position as captain and T.J. Kladivo’s position as assistant captain.”

Maus said the department claimed it was consolidating leadership in the department to save money.

“I did the math and it cost more money, so it was a false statement,” he said. Maus then filed a whistleblower type case with the state. “I prevailed because I had tape recordings of those meetings.”

“That case had merit,” he said. “And those cases are not easy to win. Greenwood was given the opportunity to settle but did not.”

The case ended up being filed with the attorney general’s office and Maus was awarded approximately $18,000 for lost wages.

Additional claims were filed on related hiring issues, and Maus said he accepted the decision that came down from the state. The outstanding claims have to do with the department’s denial of his mileage claim when he was eligible as a firefighter to get early access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and another dispute over denial of pension credits when he had missed one of the dozen meetings required, but felt he had a valid excused absence.

“My dad died of COVID during this time,” he said. “It was clear to me that COVID was serious.”

The vote to hire Maus was 3-2, with Skubic and Ralston voting against.

“I thank the board for trusting me to be the fire chief,” Maus said. “I will put forth my best effort to continue our proud tradition.”

Fire Hall safety issues

Stoehr gave a detailed presentation on safety issues in the fire hall.

“I’ve been talking to OSHA and consulting with them,” he said. “I’m not trying to beat up on the fire department, but we have over $2 million of apparatus that needs to be tended to.”

Stoehr said there are many safety issues with how equipment is being stored.

“The fire hall and storage building are total disasters,” he said. “These are accidents waiting to happen. Things have gone to hell. There are things sitting around that shouldn’t be sitting around, tripping hazards, and stuff all over the place.”

Stoehr said his background working in industrial settings showed him the lack of training and care that has been taken with township assets.

Besides basic safety issues like tripping hazards, he pointed out, during a video walk-through he showed the board, how equipment is not being properly or safely stored, how excess unused equipment and supplies were not organized.

“We have a very nice building, and we are housing junk out there,” he said. “We should be putting things up for auction.”

“Taking care of this equipment is part of their fire department training,” he said, noting that it should be part of their paid training time.

He also stressed that department members need to have proper training, including the state firefighter I and II coursework.

Stoehr noted that when the township had a full-time maintenance person on staff, that person acted as the fire department’s “valet.”

“When you join the fire department you work as a team,” he said.

Stoehr had briefly joined the department, but said he soon realized he wouldn’t be able to make the obligation in good faith to be a good department member.

“It a commitment,” he said. “It is not a club.”

Stoehr said the township had just spent $7,500 getting the fire department trucks “back in line.” And he again brought up the fact that when the previous department officials realized that the township’s main fire engine was “limping along,” that no one had done anything besides saying they were investigating the problem.

“I know they are good-hearted people,” he said. “And we have a lot of young members who need to learn how to take care of the equipment.”

Maus noted that the current guidelines for fire department members state that firefighters are responsible for keeping equipment clean inside and outside, and doing basic maintenance.

The town board decided to add additional language to the department guidelines clarifying that “township-owned vehicles, apparatus, and equipment” be kept in neat and clean condition at all times.

Maus said he was getting input from department members on some other equipment and equipment storage issues, including an issue with a suction hose that needs to be repaired.

The board also heard an update on the township’s smaller fire boat, which experienced engine problems while responding to a call from hunters stranded on Pine Island. The St. Louis County Rescue Squad had asked if the department could pick up the hunters, whose boat had taken in water and were afraid to try to travel back to the marina. The hunters did not have a shelter or any place to stay overnight in the poor weather. The boat is now at Joe’s Marine getting repaired.

Maus also told the town board he would be asking them to consider purchasing a more up-to-date GPS system for both fire boats. He said while he and another department member were trying to navigate the lake on a stormy and cold night, the GPS units they currently have are not able to correct the course in real time, and the boat was drifting off course in “the narrows” and they had to take turns sticking their heads out the window to make sure they were safe.

“This was a non-emergency call,” Maus said, so it didn’t matter they were having to travel slowly.

Maus said the two hunters were very thankful for the rescue.

“They felt dumb,” he said. “But we were just glad they were okay.”

New GPS units would cost over $2,000. Maus said he would bring more information back to the board on possible replacements.

Maus also asked the board for permission to sell or donate excess equipment. He said they will work on an inventory and bring that information back to the board next month.

The board also voted to advertise again for new fire department and first responders, as well as for an assistant chief, safety officer, and administrative assistant.

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