LODI — The fire chief has been fired again.
Village Council voted 4-2 Monday night to terminate Andrew Wurstner as chief of the volunteer fire department for insubordination and removed him as a firefighter.
It was the second time Council voted on the issue. Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier ruled March 22 that Council did not follow proper procedure when members voted to fire him in February.
Wurstner, who was appointed fire chief in February 2009, and his attorney, Steve Bailey, said they plan to appeal the ruling in Collier’s court on the basis Wurstner did not receive a fair hearing because Council already voted once to fire him.
The vote was 4-2 both times, with each Council member voting the same way each time.
“They had already pre-judged this case,” Bailey said Tuesday. “They could not possibly be fair.”
The charges stem from Council’s Dec. 6 Safety Committee meeting during which Mayor Dan Goodrow reportedly gave Wurstner a direct order not to go on runs with the department due to a shoulder injury.
Bailey said Wurstner was instructed to continue his administrative duties with the department, and that’s what Wurstner was doing when he tagged along with other fire medics to supervise four calls after Dec. 6.
Goodrow brought the issue to Council, saying Wurstner violated a direct order by going on runs and should forfeit his job.
At the time, the village listed Wurstner as a probationary fire chief, and therefore would not have to hold a hearing to fire him. Council voted Feb. 14 to remove Wurstner as chief.
In his summary judgment in March, Collier said there is no such thing as a probationary fire chief under the Ohio Revised Code and, therefore, Wurstner was still the chief. Following that decision, Wurstner was placed on administrative leave until Monday’s hearing could take place.
Bailey said Wurstner did not contest that he was present for four fire department runs, but that because he did not actively participate in the calls and was there to supervise only, he did not violate the mayor’s order.
“You don’t throw away 27 years of service to a community for this,” Bailey said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Goodrow, Council President John Carpenter and Lodi Law Director Irving Sugarman did not return phone messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Wurstner said up until this issue, he and the Fire Department had a good relationship with Council.
“I’m disappointed,” Wurstner said. “I’ve been (a volunteer firefighter) a long time. It’s not something you do for yourself. You do it for your community.”
Councilwoman Melody Miller, who voted in favor of keeping Wurstner as chief, called the punishment “harsh” and said she believes the issue has personal roots.
“Back in November, the mayor told me he had someone in mind for the position,” Miller said Tuesday. “It’s a big factor, if you ask me. To me, the punishment does not (fit) the crime.”
Miller said the situation has put other Lodi employees and volunteer workers on edge and may discourage residents from volunteering with the department.
“You have employees right now who are afraid to blink an eye because they’re afraid they’re next,” Miller said. “And that’s not good.”
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.