Western Lakes Fire district referendum on Aug. 9 ballot

Western Lakes Fire District - Pabst Farms Location #1

DOUSMAN — A Western Lakes Fire District lieutenant blasted department management in a meeting last week, with the chief responding by saying management is listening and will do what is needed to help the department thrive.

At a Nov. 28 meeting of the Western Lakes Fire District, Adam Fritsch, parttime lieutenant and paramedic and Dousman resident who voted against the recent referendum, read a 12-plus-page letter in which he bemoaned the high tax impact of the department’s budget increases after a failed referendum this year, and said a loss of employees over recent years is due to their dissatisfaction with management and a perceived lack of advancement opportunities. He said the WLFD failed to properly investigate a female member’s complaint of harassment against her.

"Many of our current full-time and part-time employees have already written their resignation letters and are holding them until they have lined up new jobs. Most who I have discussed this with told me that they don’t feel that they can work for WLFD due to the leadership failures. ... I found that almost all of the staff who I was talking to were unhappy with some aspects of the leadership of WLFD. Many reported sending emails to chiefs without getting responses or responses taking several days or weeks, with the most common responses ‘being busy.’ Full-time employees expressed frustration about being evaluated by a chief who they did not routinely work with. Part-time employees expressed frustration about never being evaluated and not having advancement opportunities," Fritsch wrote.

"As a taxpayer, I expressed my concern that we are moving towards a crisis where an ambulance or fire apparatus may not come when I call 9-1-1 for someone in my family. This may seem like I am being dramatic, but I assure you — there are that many people who are looking for work elsewhere or just plain ready to quit. The house is on fire from the inside, and it seems as though our administration is not aware or not attempting to fix it."

Fritsch said most WLFD employees he spoke to in recent months feel uncomfortable using their chain of command to discuss concerns about Chief Brad Bowen, with a perception that concerns are not being forwarded to him. Fritsch also complained of a lack of transparency. He said WLFD discussions about improvement are usually not shared with employees.

Fritsch reported a female WLFD employee recently posted on a blog that she received inappropriate Snapchat messages from a chief officer, and reported them in May 2021 and it was not immediately investigated. When it was, she was asked if she ever had inappropriate conversations or consensual relations with coworkers in the past. Fritsch said her case was an example of the double standards that many people feel exist at WLFD, when a different employee was placed on administrative leave for another accusation but the accused employee in this situation was not — and “There has been no public acknowledgment by WLFD. ... WLFD should acknowledge that an employee has made a statement that we are aware of and are investigating.”

Fritsch also complained about his frustration at the hiring of a new full-time assistant chief and battalion chiefs while delaying the creation and promotion of full-time lieutenants. He said many WLFD employees are concerned about the lack of a supervisor in each station on every shift.

Chief responds

In a statement released to the Enterprise, Bowen said: “Our organizational culture is important to all of our employees. Our culture best flourishes when we can productively address employee concerns. Our management team will evaluate the concerns raised by this employee and address them in a manner that best helps the entire organization.

“The District has made great strides over the past two years to focus on professional development of our employees. That is an ongoing process for us, and we are utilizing policy updates, training, the expertise of our human resources manager, and outside organizational consultants. All of these efforts are a significant investment in our culture and our employees. Our organization’s commitment is to address allegations of misconduct, including harassment, promptly and effectively. As Chief I am working with the board, our command team, and human resources and will continue to do so for the betterment our employees.”