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City Council reappoints fire chief
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BRODHEAD - The Brodhead City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to reappoint fire chief Jay Bohan for one year, but the decision wasn't supported by everyone at the fire department.

Bohan, who has been the fire chief in Brodhead for two years, was the subject of a closed session meeting at city hall that lasted for more than three hours before the vote.

His contract with the city was set to expire July 29. The agreement with the council will allow him to continue as chief from July 28 to July 27, 2011.

Bohan, who was the fire chief at St. John's University in Minnesota before coming to Brodhead, is the city's first full-time chief. He is also the only full-time paid position with the department.

The cause of the closed-door meeting was allegations made by firefighters regarding Bohan's conduct at the department and his leadership abilities.

The council heard from the firefighters as well as Bohan, fire department officers and trustees, the city's Personnel Committee and township board chairmen. Township board chairmen attended the meeting because the Brodhead Fire Department serves area townships.

After Tuesday's meeting, Brodhead Mayor Doug Pinnow said he couldn't reveal specific information about what was discussed in the closed meeting, but said none of the allegations made against Bohan involved anything that was illegal.

In an interview Tuesday, Bohan described the meeting as "positive."

"I appreciate what the people did," he said of those who spoke on his behalf at the meeting.

Chris Speth, who is a Brodhead firefighter and was also a captain on the fire department for several years, was one of the firefighters who brought the allegations against Bohan to the city's attention. Speth was "upset and disappointed" by the council's decision after the meeting Tuesday.

"I don't believe they did a thorough investigation," Speth said of the council. "I think their minds were made up before the meeting."

Speth said problems with Bohan began "right after" he started working at the fire department. He said Bohan isn't qualified to be the fire chief.

"He doesn't know what he's doing," Speth said. "He's never led a night training. He lacks the ability to budget. He's told us he doesn't need to know where the equipment is on the trucks or even how to drive the trucks."

Speth said Bohan walked away from a February fire at a Decatur township residence, leaving others in charge to call for mutual aid and to manage the command center at the fire.

"He even thought it was OK to park the department's command vehicle in a handicapped spot," Speth said.

Bohan said the criticism is unfounded, and the allegations were a result of "personality" issues between him and six firefighters.

"I think some of the problems are because of a resistance to change," he said. "I can be a little strong at times."

Bohan said he hasn't led night training because he has training officers at the department to conduct training exercises. The allegation that he said he doesn't need to know where the equipment is on the trucks was a misunderstanding, he said.

Bohan explained that, unlike fire chiefs in the past, he doesn't drive a fire truck to a fire. He drives a command vehicle.

"My job isn't to lay hose at the fire. My job is to manage the scene," he said.

Bohan also said he didn't walk away from the February fire; he took a restroom break.

As for parking in a handicapped spot, Bohan said he was in a hurry for a meeting, made a mistake by parking in a handicapped spot, and when he came out of the store, he realized he made a mistake.

"If I hadn't been in a hurry, it wouldn't have happened," he said.

There were six firefighters who approached the city council a few months ago to talk about the problems they perceived with Bohan. Speth said he and the other firefighters are now on a list of people that Bohan wants to see leave the department.

"I don't really care if he wants to get rid of me or not," Speth said. "I'm going to stay on to get rid of him."

The firefighters expected their actions wouldn't be supported by everyone, but Speth said they felt they had to call attention to the problems.

The allegations against Bohan have caused a split in the department, Speth said.

"You have people that won't talk to each other (at the department), and there have been times when people have come close to fighting."

Bohan said he doesn't want anyone to leave the department. He just wants the firefighters who have complaints to "go along with the flow" and work with him.

Pinnow said he hopes the problems within the department can be resolved. The city council will meet Monday to discuss new policies and procedures for the fire department. Pinnow wouldn't give details about what changes will be made.

"We're hoping everything gets back on track," Pinnow said.

Bohan agreed. He believes the 35 firefighters at the department can put the division behind them and focus on their duties.

"We have a good group of people here. I think we hit a bump in the road but we can overcome it," he said.