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Firefighters disagree on Heins as chief
MONROE - The Board of Police and Fire Commissioners has narrowed down the list of candidates to replace former Monroe Fire Chief Daryl Rausch to two viable firefighters, but some department employees are dreading the decision.

Namely, if current interim chief Lane Heins, who was previously the department deputy chief, is chosen as the permanent replacement to Rausch, who resigned this fall to accept a position as fire chief in Fort Atkinson.

Two letters sent to the PFC outline different stances on Heins and point to a division within the department. One cites his dedication to the MERIT Center project, work on fundraisers and the development of a fire prevention program. It has 20 scribbled signatures in favor of his hire, though some firefighters cast doubt on the validity of the names and said some people felt pressured to sign the document that was circulated throughout the department.

On the other letter, 10 names signed with the "hope we don't lose any more good firefighters." These firefighters expressed concern for the future of the department if Heins is hired permanently and requested a meeting with board members to discuss the issues in more detail. The letter cited negative communication and treatment of employees, and alleged misuse of department equipment, vehicles and office space.

One of the officers who signed the letter expressing concerns was Cpt. Nick Bartels. He expressed concern about how he would be treated by Heins after the act of defiance. While two other officers declined to comment publicly for fear of putting their jobs in jeopardy, Bartels said he felt the issue was important.

"If you voice your opinion, you're at the wrath of Heins for six months," Bartels said. "But it got to a point where we'd finally had enough. I had to stand up for what I believe in."

Bartels said in-fighting among leadership and others has been the direct result of controlling behavior by Heins, and to an extent, Rausch's encouragement of disagreement rather than mediation between officers.

Others, like Chuck Montgomery, who was one of the people asking for signatures to support Heins, see the interim chief as an asset to the community and the department. Fundraisers have helped the program, training through the MERIT Center has created better firefighters and each signee recommended Heins be declared the new chief.

To Bartels and other fellow firefighters, the tension within the department has proven too much. Some newer firefighters have quit because of the atmosphere at the department, while others fear what may become of their jobs if Heins is hired as fire chief permanently. According to complaints issued to officers, Heins has yelled at, cursed at and degraded people within the department a number of times and extends favoritism to certain individuals.

Bartels and others who signed the letter asking for an opportunity to speak with the board were given the chance to talk to president Charles Koch at the beginning of the hiring process, before the two finalists were chosen. Bartels said he and others met with Koch to talk about some of the incidents they believe make Heins an inappropriate choice for the job.

Koch, for his part, said he is unable to comment on any of the discussions which may have taken place until after the decision to hire a fire chief is made.

The PFC is scheduled to meet at 5:20 p.m. today at the Behring Senior Center. According to its agenda, commissioners will review the finalists' background investigation, qualifications and skills in closed session, and then reconvene in open session and possibly take action regarding next steps in the hiring process for chief.

If Heins is hired, Bartels said what he called the steady decline the department has seen in the past five years will only worsen.

"As soon as they hire him, it's going to go straight downhill, not just at an angle," Bartels said, adding that even private citizens have approached him with feelings of apprehension at the prospect.

Calls to Montgomery and Heins requesting comment were not returned.

The other candidate is Dan Smits of the Crete Fire Department in Illinois. Smits has 40 years of firefighting experience. He began in Lansing, Illinois at the age of 18 as a paid on-call worker before moving to Calumet City, Illinois. There he served through the ranks for 26 years before a transition to deputy chief in Crete. Smits is also certified with the National Fire Academy.