St John’s Fire Chief Gets Vote of No Confidence

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Charleston, SC (WCIV) –

The St. John’s Fire Department submitted a vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Colleen Walz Monday. The vote came after filing a long list of complaints about the chief, among them her $35,000 pay raise amidst budget issues.

A group of concerned citizens brought the letter to the meeting. They said three-fourths of the St. John’s Fire Department signed the letter.

Barbara Robertson read the letter’s list of grievances at the meeting. She said one reason fire fighter’s and John’s Island residents were upset was “due to constant degrading and belittling remarks made to office staff, chief officers, and firefighting personnel” by Chief Walz.

“Any vote of no confidence is not a good thing for any kind of organization,” said Bruce Burding, president of the St. John’s Professional Firefighters. “This was put together by firefighters in general in regards to a lot of issues.”

It took Robertson more than 20 minutes to read the list.

“She verbally agreed the department was quote, ‘in shambles,'” Robertson said of Chief Walz. The letter also read the chief “does not possess characteristics required to lead the organization in a positive direction.”READ FULL STORY HERE

Letter that was submitted to SConFIRE.com that was read at the meeting

Hello I am reading this letter on behalf of the St Johns Fire Districts Fire Suppression personnel.  A confidential vote was conducted recently and members of the suppression division were asked if they had confidence in their Fire Chief—Colleen Walz.  The result of the vote was received and it was determined that a majority of the personnel agreed to a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in Chief Colleen Walz.  The following document was read and signed in agreement by this majority:

As members of the St John’s Fire District, we are writing to state that the majority of firefighters and Chief level officers of the district have no confidence in Fire Chief Colleen Walz.  It disappoints us that this vote had to be taken but the Chief’s actions, or lack there of, have left us no choice.  Despite the best efforts of various officer meetings, shift meetings, and one-on-one meetings, these issues that are creating a matter of public concern have continued to be detrimental to the organization, the reputation of St John’s Fire District, and most importantly the community served by the Fire District and these issues are costing the taxpayers unnecessary amounts of money.

We have lost over 65 members of the department since Chief Walz has taken over the Fire Chief position about 2.5 years ago.  This has cost the taxpayers of our district an astronomical amount of money and contributed to the lack of experience left within the district.  According to public websites, each new hire costs the department approximately $10,000 to include gear, training, overtime personnel to conduct the physical agility test, uniforms, etc.  This does not include the hourly cost of the personnel that is receiving the training, which increases that number to around $15,000.  Those 65 members have cost the department over three quarters of a million dollars, which does not include the cost of overtime to cover the empty slots in the roster.  Regardless of this high turnover, over the years and the numerous meetings, Chief Walz and the Fire District have not taken steps to reverse the issues leading to such a high turnover, which is to the extreme detriment of the community.

The dedicated members of the St John’s Fire District take great pride in the services we provide and the level of excellence we have represented in the Lowcountry.  However, that pride has diminished as major issues for taxpayers and personnel get ignored and the expertise of the St John’s Fire District continues to move on to other departments or different careers due to the organizational and budgetary issues.  However, despite the strife faced daily by the personnel, we strive to provide the best fire and rescue services to our citizens.

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has demonstrated that she does not possess the characteristics required to lead this organization in a positive direction.  Her inability to provide the needed direction to subordinates has led the department to be left in a conundrum.  She verbally agreed the department was “in shambles” during a meeting on November 17, 2015, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz continues to do irreparable damage to the confidence and pride of the internal organization due to the constant degrading and belittling remarks made to office staff, Chief Officers, and to firefighting personnel.  During a meeting with a large number of personnel on December 1, 2015, an engineer on the department requested assistance for setting up training.  She put her hands up to her face and made a “crybaby” motion toward the employee.  On August 25, 2015 Chief Walz was required to attend a County meeting which congratulated St John’s personnel for their heroic actions on a call for saving an infant’s life.  During her presentation of the individuals she repeatedly mispronounced their names, showing them little to no respect in front of a crowd of people.  She has also done this during badge pinning ceremonies at commission meetings.  These issues are also a huge contributing factor to the high turnover that the district is experiencing which makes it a matter of public concern due to the mindset it places the employee in and the employee is often required to remain on duty at the times of the incident, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has shown she lacks the ability to take responsibility and make fire-ground decisions that could prevent the loss of property by taxpayers.  During a recent fire on Kiawah, she arrived on scene within 30 minutes of the original dispatch and did not take command and did not resolve issues she saw upon her arrival.  The multi-million dollar home ended up being a complete loss and the fire was put out when a bulldozer was called on scene.  Instead of correcting the issues she saw upon arrival, she waited for the critique of the incident, which occurred months later.  She then blamed a subordinate Chief for the loss.  As the highest ranking fire personnel on scene, Chief Colleen Walz is the person that is overall responsible any time she responds to a fire.  The total loss could have possibly been prevented if she had made a decision to correct issues at the early stages of the fire.  The Community Risk Reduction Officer was forced to take the blame and apologize although it was Chief Walz inability to make a sound decision that was detrimental to the call and then she failed to take responsibility for her own NON-ACTION, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has allowed for excessive spending on several occasions when she allows department vehicles to drive to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for home visits (Chief Walz, whose vehicle is a 2015 and has over 10,000 miles on it between May 29, 2015 and October 1, 2015; fuel and mileage has not been updated in the department’s reporting system since then), allows Chiefs to use the department vehicle to drop their children off at part-time jobs, go to Columbia for their children’s wrestling matches and school outside of the district, etc.  This costs the district and taxpayers unnecessary amounts of money spent on fuel, oil changes and vehicle depreciation. She has also not filled several overtime slots with promotion and hiring that have been vacant for months.  This has created a massive overtime cost.  In February of 2016 alone, one shift had over 70 overtime slots that were filled.  Those slots were filled by a mixture of firefighters, engineers, and captains.  In that one month it cost the district over $32,000 on just that one shift.  This issue however, is present on all three shifts, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has allowed a decrease in quality of smoke detectors provided to citizens in the district.  The detectors that were approved in 2015 cost $30 a piece and were up to builder’s code and were proven to protect the homeowners to an acceptable standard.  The 2016 smoke detectors that she changed to will cost $10 a piece and are not even up to par with the current builders codes in the State of South Carolina.  During a meeting on February 2, 2016 Chief Walz stated the department could no longer afford those detectors.  So the citizens are forced to take a substantial reduction in quality of service, yet in December 2015, the commission approved her to receive a $20,000 raise in the middle of the fiscal year (paid for by those same taxpayers), and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has allowed the relocation of personnel during training that leave districts with little or no fire protection.  Training consistently takes place on Main Rd, on Johns Island.  During the training, 2 of the 4 personnel on Wadmalaw Island will consistently leave Wadmalaw to attend and the rescue company of 3 personnel will leave station 5’s district completely open in the heart of Johns Island.  This means the response time to these areas can double leaving the citizens to be at a greater risk of losing life and property, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz shows disrespect to the district and the law by illegally parking in a handicapped spot for three straight days (August 26-28 2015) with her St John’s Department Vehicle at the Fire Rescue Conference in Atlanta where hundreds of other agencies were present and able to see (picture evidence), and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has blatantly stated during shift meetings that she “doesn’t know anything about that” in regards to important safety issues with high liability to the district.  For example, improperly trained personnel on apparatus (Marine Team), continual equipment malfunctions like “check engine” lights being on trucks for months, reported safety issues for gear being reported over 2 years ago continuing to go unfixed.  Ethical issues that includes Chief officers disseminating confidential information to other personnel in regards to the future termination of individuals, complaints filed against individuals and confidential written statements.  She also stated to newly demoted engineers that they were “not demoted” so they were unable to grieve the issue, even though she signed the paperwork that clearly states “demotion” at the top of it on October 12, 2015; all of which have opened the district up to possible lawsuit, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has accepted no responsibility in regards to administrative issues such as chiefs responding to calls and sitting in their vehicles instead of assuming a position in the incident’s command structure; the American flag in front of headquarters not following the Governor’s order of flying at half-staff (February 16, 2016) until 4 days later; payroll issues that include insurance payments not taken out of checks and retirement contributions not taken out of checks which then have to be made up by the employees; blaming line personnel for herself and her administrative staff not knowing about benefits like the 1% fund after being here for over two years; allowing employees that were invested in the FSA Benny Card to lose hundreds of dollars when they were told that the money would roll over the following year and then due to a clerical error within the department it did not; on October 14, 2015 an issue was presented in regards to a clerical error with the new benefits card that has cost one employee over $1600 and as of February 25, 2016 is yet to be resolved because the department states they aren’t sure how to fix it but they are “looking into it”, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has shown her inability to be transparent to the public and personnel.  She stated during a shift meeting on February 2, 2016 that we need to keep longevity pay a secret from the taxpayers because they would be mad if they found out and that the taxpayers of Wadmalaw don’t pay enough taxes so they won’t get the same care as the taxpayers of Kiawah (in regards to apparatus and staffing), and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz has allowed her Chief level officers (Chief Stanley) to place their hands on and threaten the members of the department and the union (June 4, 2015) in front of several individuals, with little to no recourse for the event, even after the incident was reported, and;

Whereas Chief Colleen Walz, regardless of all these issues, has just recently accepted a significant raise in December of 2015; this raise comes at a time when she has preached that the district must be more “fiscally responsible” and that employees must be prepared to take cuts in benefits.  She has removed the ability for employees to use donated leave if they are injured, began requiring costly doctor notes for employees with sick children or even child-births, raised insurance costs to employees and stated that employees will see at least a decrease and possible removal of longevity pay

Chief Walz began her career here on July 22, 2013 making $87,499 and after several raises, given to her by the commission with taxpayer’s money, she now makes $123,354 after only 2.5 years.  This means over 2.5 years she has seen a salary increase of over $35,855 which is a 41% increase; in comparison to the firefighters, who are risking their lives for taxpayers, getting two meager COST OF LIVING increases to TOTAL 7% in the same amount of time even during a time of high turnover; and she has cost the taxpayers unnecessary money and has cut back on the quality of care and protection given to the taxpayers and her employees.

Therefore be it resolved that the members of St John’s Fire District, by majority vote, declare no confidence in Fire Chief Colleen Walz. In the absence of immediate reform, or close oversight from the Commission and the Governor, we respectfully request a letter of resignation from Colleen Walz.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the St John’s Fire District Personnel

I_______________________ AGREE to a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN FIRE CHIEF COLLEEN WALZ for the above mentioned reasons.

Signature______________________________________________   Date___________________

About Colt Roy

Editor and Photojournalist for SConFire.com. Currently employed by the Department of Defense as a Firefighter/EMT. Past North Charleston Fire Department and Whitesville Fire Department. Colt is also the owner of 3 House Photography where his work that doesn't go to SConFire.com is published. Colt uses Canon gear and is currently shooting with 5D Mkiii and 6D cameras along with the 24-105 F4L, 70-200 2.8L IS ii, and 14 2.8L ii Canon lenses along with the Sigma 50 1.4 Art and 150-600 Sport lenses. Colt also uses a 360Fly HD 360 camera to capture events as they unfold.