The new falcon herald logo.
Falcon Fire Protection District (FFPD)

FFPD upheaval

The announcement that the Falcon Fire Protection District board of directors placed three chief officers on paid administrative leave and opened a third-party investigation shocked many, including the chiefs involved. More than a month later, no information has been released publicly about the details of the investigation, and FFPD Chief Trent Harwig, Jeff Petersma, battalion chief, and Cory Galicia, battalion chief, do not know why theyíre on administrative leave.Three members of the FFPD board ñ Kelly Starkman and Henry Allen were absent ñ went into executive session at the April 24 meeting, excluding Harwig from the session. Afterward, they announced that Harwig, Petersma and Galicia would be put on administrative leave. Galicia was not present at the meeting.The board members also stated they would hire Mountain States Employers Council to conduct a third-party, independent investigation into unspecified allegations. Chief Glenn Levy was appointed acting fire chief. According to an April 26 news release from the FFPD, ìNo specific information may be provided as the investigation involves personnel matters.îìI was shocked,î said Petersma.ìI was surprised,î Galicia said. ìWhat did I do to justify being placed on administrative leave?îHarwig, Petersma and Galicia said they didnít know why they were being investigated or who lodged the complaint. ìAll weíve been told is theyíre investigating personnel allegations,î Harwig said. ìThey did not say what those allegations were.î They were told only that they were put on administrative leave to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation, he said.The May 15 regular board meeting shed no light on the situation. Board president Kelly Starkman read a statement reiterating that the board would not discuss the matter publicly because of the personnel-type issues. However, that did not deter people from speaking out in support of the three chiefs.Michael Henley, fire suppression captain at Ellicott Fire Protection District, said, ìIn my 19 years of experience I have never seen more dedicated or prudent individuals in this service. Falcon Fire Protection District has a group of excellent officers and leadership, and these three are among your best.îTerry Reed, Petersmaís father-in-law, said the information released has already cast suspicion of guilt on the chiefs. ìWhen you put folks on administrative leave, you are punishing them and already determined theyíve done something very wrong, in the publicís opinion.î He also noted the trioís years of service and said they have given ìmore of their own personal time to the good of the community than any accuserî could provide.Harwig, Petersma, and Galicia all started their careers as volunteers with Falcon Fire Department, and each was recognized for his years of service at the December 2012 Christmas dinner.Trent Harwig joined the department in July 1997. He was appointed as interim chief in November 2002 and named chief two months later.Cory Galicia has spent 16 years with the FFPD. In that time heís received awards, including Firefighter of the Year (1997) and Officer of the Year (2007). The Exchange Club named him Firefighter of the Year in 2009. Galicia is also a recipient of the William H. Spurgeon III Award from the Boy Scouts of America and Learning for Life, recognizing his work with teens in the Explorer group in 2010-2011.Jeff Petersma grew up in Falcon and spent plenty of time at the fire station since his father was a volunteer firefighter. Heís been a Falcon firefighter for more than 20 years and has also received awards, including Officer of the Year in 2009.At least two local media outlets incorrectly reported that Harwig, Petersma, and Galicia had been placed on administrative leave in 2008 following a complaint of age discrimination related to a physical fitness assessment. Petersma was placed on paid administrative leave while Galicia, a volunteer at the time, was simply placed on leave. Harwig was not subjected to any type of administrative action at that time.Petersma said the case eventually went to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and he and Galicia were cleared of allegations related to age discrimination. However, the board at that time demoted Petersma from deputy chief to captain and cut his pay by 5 percent, but his duties and responsibilities remained unchanged. He was later appointed to the position of battalion chief. According to a report in the November 2008 New Falcon Herald, Galicia kept his position as volunteer captain but was required to undergo sensitivity and management training. He also later became a paid battalion chief.The lack of information about the allegations that sparked the administrative actions has frustrated the chiefs and citizens alike. ìThere is no reason to keep taxpayers and those men in the dark for this many weeks,î said former board member Dick Ayer. ìI feel those three men need to know the charges against them and where they came from. They deserve better than this, and as a taxpayer I deserve better than this.îResident Mike Hopkins said, ìIf weíre going to waste money (on an investigation) Iíd like to know what the charges are.îDirector Greg Heule defended the boardís silence. ìWe canít discuss those things (personnel matters) in a public forum,î he said. ìItís not legal, itís against the law and board policy, and itís not ethical. That leaves us vulnerable to rumors and innuendo from folks who donít know the facts.îHeule said the FFPD has not received any invoices from Mountain States; however, according to the districtís 2013 budget, $64,843 is budgeted for legal issues. Chiefs Levy, Champlin and Kauffman have been pulling extra duty to fill the battalion chief positions, but these costs were also not available.Some residents questioned the boardís hiring of an outside investigative firm in light of the recent mill levy increase, which voters approved in 2011.ìThe mill levy was vital to maintaining the levels of service being provided,î Heule said. Regarding the investigation, he said, ìWe wanted to do this the right way and are willing to expend the funds to do that.îThe long-term cost to the district, however, could go beyond dollars spent. ìThey are going to lose a lot of (public) support over this,î Ayer said.May 23 special board meetingA special meeting was held May 23 at 2 p.m. (the meetings are usually at 4 p.m.) Board members went into executive session as well, but Heule and Richard Shearer, attorney, said that no action would be taken after the executive session.Heule provided a statement to the NFH regarding the meeting and the executive session. ìThe investigator gave us a preliminary verbal report,î he said.îWe discussed it and that was it.î Heule said the board hopes to have things wrapped up in the next week or two. ìWeíre all anxious to get this done for the district, the community and those involved,î he said.Meanwhile, itís a long wait for Harwig, Petersma and Galicia.Harwig is used to knowing everything that happens in the area regarding fires and emergencies. ìItís hard not knowing whatís going on,î he said. ìI care a lot about this department.î

StratusIQ Fiber Internet Falcon Advertisement

Current Weather

Search Businesses

Search Businesses