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FFPD shake up

At the April 24 regular board meeting of the Falcon Fire Protection District, the three out of five directors present unanimously voted to place Trent Harwig, fire chief; Jeff Petersma, battalion chief; and Cory Galicia, battalion chief on administrative leave with pay. The action was prompted by allegations against the three members of the FFPD. The board also decided to bring in a third-party ñ Mountain States Employers Council ñ to investigate the allegations.ìThatís the only way we couldíve conducted the investigation,î said Greg Heule, FFPD board secretary. ìWe needed a clean break to make sure there was the ability (for the investigation) to be completely independent. The board put them on paid leave because if you put them on unpaid leave, thatís a punishment right off the bat. We wanted to conduct the investigation first, and the board was adamant that they (Harwig, Petersma and Galicia) did not come away losing something during the investigation.îFollowing the Mountain State Employers Council final report, the board unanimously voted on June 19 to return Harwig and Petersma to their positions, with no disciplinary actions taken, Harwig said. Galiciaís fate was still pending.At the same meeting June 19, the board voted to approve a new organizational chart, adding a deputy chief of operations position. The deputy chief reports directly to the fire chief, according to an email to The New Falcon Herald from Kelly Starkman, board president. Glenn Levy, who held the training chief position, became the deputy chief. ìLevy is still the training chief and has that responsibility but his title is deputy chief of operations,î Harwig said. ìHe is between the fire chief and battalion chief. When he was just working as a training chief, he had no direct subordinates. The deputy chief position was designed to create cohesiveness between the three firefighting shifts. We are not hiring another training chief. There was a new position created but there wasnít an additional position madeî Nor did Levy receive an increase in pay, Harwig said.Galicia is demoted, and who made that decision depends on whoís talking. According to Starkmanís email, the board took no action regarding either Petersma or Galicia but provided information from the MSEC report to Levy and Harwig, who jointly decided Galiciaís demotion.Heuleís account is a bit different. ìIt was the decision of Chief Levy and Chief Harwig to take whatever necessary actions, based on direction from the board.îìIt was the boardís direction to Levy to demote me,î Galicia said. ìA recommendation was given to Harwig from Levy, and Levy called me but I told him I didnít want to talk to him. He said his hands were tied, and he was just following directions.ìThey (the board) directed Chief Levy to do the punishment but he had made some racial comments, too, so I asked that he not be the one to do it.îGalicia has since filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor and the Department of Regulatory Agencies, he said. Galicia also said he has consulted with an attorney regarding discrimination and racial comments that he alleges Levy said. Galiciaís demotion to firefighter cost him a significant decrease in annual pay – $13,600. He has left his position at the FFPD and taken another job. ìThere was an investigation done and a report was given, but I wasnít given a chance to discuss the charges. I was guilty as charged with no chance to talk about it. It was never brought to my attention other than after the investigation was done. I was never counseled or told anything.ìI found out about the same time as Chief (Harwig) and Jeff ñ about eight weeks into the investigation ñ as to what the allegations were against me,î Cory Galicia said.The following issues led to the demotion, Galicia said. He was accused of taking a dictator approach to manage firefighters. He also didnít have his firefighter officer 1 certification. ìI was told by Chief Levy that we would start a firefighter officer 1 course at the FFPD, but that never happened,î Galicia said. ìBut Chief Levy has no Colorado state certification, including firefighter officer 1, and I think the deputy chief should have that and firefighter officer 2 as well.îGalicia said the allegations against him were reported directly to members of the board, rather than following the chain of command per district policy. He said the employee manual states that breaking the chain of command results in immediate termination.Two television news stations called Galicia 10 hours before he was notified of his demotion, Galicia said. ìThey called me to ask how I felt about it,î he said. The media called him at 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., and the department did not notify Galicia until after 4 p.m., he said.Galicia said he believes that firefighters who are also members of the International Association of Fire Fighters brought the allegations against him to the boardís attention. He said he believes that both Heule and Mike Smaldino, board treasurer, saw an opportunity to move the district in a pro-union direction.ìNo, thatís absolutely not the case,î Heule said. ìYes, I was contacted. Yes, Smaldino and I discussed it and the need for the investigation, and presented it to the board. I researched the Mountain State people, but I did not and Mike Smaldino did not and the board did not go into this like ëhey, letís put some people on administrative leave.í We very much understand the seriousness of the situation. We would not have gone there had we not had reason to go there.îHeule said he was appointed by the board to be the point of contact between the board and MSEC.Smaldino did not respond to a request for an interview.According to the FFPDís website, Smaldino worked for more than 20 years as a union steward. Harwig said Smaldinoís son is a firefighter with the Colorado Springs Fire Department and also served as the union president for CSFD. ìSmaldino was targeted and asked to run for an open position when the board was filling one by some of our firefighter union members,î Harwig said.ìThis investigation was in no way shape or form inspired by the union,î Heule said.The FFPD board has not received a bill for MSECís services, so the exact cost of the investigation is unknown. ìThe cost wonít be just from Mountain States,î Harwig said. ìThere will be attorney costs and overtime (to replace the three who were on leave) but the Mountain States part will be the most expensive part.ìThe board direction was to keep staffing and response (times) equal to or better than it was before we were put on leave. The Black Forest fire was going on at the time, and it undoubtedly created a lot of overtime.îHeule said that firefighters assigned to replace Harwig, Petersma and Galicia while they were on leave were salaried, so overtime was not an issueGalicia is disappointed and ready to wash his hands of the department, after serving the department for 16 years, he said.ìWhat gets me is what Iíve done for them for all these years that they would just automatically do that (demote) and not take into consideration my family and my livelihood,î Galicia said. ìI feel betrayed and that Iím not worth anything to them, even after all these years.îHeule said, ìThe actions that were taken were in the best interests of the district.îEditorís note: Be sure to read Robin Widmarís FFPD board meeting update on the Falcon Fire Protection District page, where more information on this ongoing issue is available.

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