The sudden dismissal of Haines Volunteer Fire Department training officer Jenn Walsh sparked quite a stir at Tuesday’s borough assembly meeting. The reasons why she was let go are unclear. And now the borough is working on piecemeal coverage for emergency calls.
“This has left the volunteers without our leader. Our EMS will suffer without our training officer,” said HVFD volunteer Meghan Elliott. She was one of a half-dozen people that spoke out against Walsh’s firing.
Suzanne Vuillet-Smith, also a volunteer, called the move “shortsighted.”
“And a real shabby way to approach a potential problem by terminating a training officer without notice,” she said. “The other paid person at the borough in emergency response is Kyle Fossman, who is wonderful, but he has no certification as of yet so he cannot respond during business hours without a certified EMT on board.”
Walsh told KHNS in a prepared statement: “Although no specifics were given for my termination, I was told it wasn’t a good fit. As I continue to work with the union to resolve this issue, my employee status does not affect my membership in the Haines Volunteer Fire Department, and I look forward to continuing to serve our community.”
Borough manager Brad Ryan emailed a statement on Friday that read “We have chosen not to extend Jenn Walsh’s employment as Training Officer beyond her probationary period with the Haines Borough. The probationary period is used to determine if continued employment is beneficial to both the employee and borough, and we have chosen not continue her employment at this time.”
Reached by phone Thursday Ryan said that the emergency services are covered. Al Badgley was the training officer before Walsh and retired in July. He was a 35-year employee of the fire department, and is now working three days a week, with volunteers rotating on the other two days. Ryan added that he wasn’t surprised by the flood of support for Walsh at the meeting.
“I think these decisions are always personal and people have personal relationships and professional relationships and they wanted voice their concerns. I appreciate that,” Ryan said.
Ryan said losing volunteers is always a concern, but he hopes the core group is solid enough to continuing filling the need.
Tracy Wirak spoke out at the meeting and said she was confused by the termination. Wirak said she became a volunteer with the fire department because she was inspired by Walsh.
“That is how Jenn works,” Wirak said. “She makes things happen. She brought EMT training to the HVFD and was working toward leading a Fire Fighter 1 course next fall. She’s an excellent instructor. She is clear, efficient and thorough. Jenn has worked hard toward being the most qualified person for the job. She is a leader, a role model and an inspiration.”
While plenty of questions about the circumstances around the firing of Walsh arose at the meeting, personnel matters are confidential. Here’s volunteer Elliott:
“When our training officer first accepted this position, the former borough manager Dave Sosa said if it did not work out after the probation period that she would receive her previous position back as EMT firefighter. Why is this no longer an option? How is prematurely terminating a dedicated, driven and capable leader beneficial for our fire department and borough?”
Kyle Fossman was hired for the EMT/firefighter job in September.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, between the borough and Local 71, the probationary period for union borough employees is six months, with the exception of peace officers, which is a year. The agreement states that “continued employment will be contingent upon a satisfactory performance.”
It goes on to say that an unsatisfactory performance will result in either a one-time extension of the probationary period of up to 90 days, or termination. It reads that at any time during the probationary period, an employee may be terminated from service at the discretion of the manager upon prior written notice and without right of hearing or appeal.
Walsh has been with the fire department for several years. She started as the training officer in August. Ryan said the job is not advertised, but will be eventually.