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Vt. fire chief suspended for alleged ‘unacceptable’ conduct

Rutland Fire Chief James Larsen, who had previously resigned as fire chief of Farmington in Minnesota, is accused of creating a hostile work environment

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Rutland Fire Department Chief James Larsen was suspended for a week by the city’s mayor after alleged “unacceptable” conduct including “intimidating, bullying, condescending and/or belittling.”

Photo/City of Rutland Fire Department Facebook

Deanna Weniger
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

RUTLAND, Vt. — Farmington’s first full-time fire chief, asked to resign after two years, is having similar problems at his new job in Vermont.

According to news reports in Rutland, Vt., Mayor David Allaire suspended Fire Chief James Larsen for a week after firefighters said he had created a hostile work environment.

The Rutland Herald reported that the complaints were outlined in a three-page letter to the city’s human resources director from the International Association of Firefighters Local 2323 and co-signed by 16 firefighters.

Calling his conduct “unacceptable,” the mayor suspended Larsen from Jan. 12-18 due to “conduct, which was perceived by the membership as intimidating, bullying, condescending and/or belittling,” the Herald reported.

After Farmington hired Larsen in 2015 as the city’s first full-time fire chief, he was lauded for organizing and updating the department, which is what the city council had asked of him. He restructured the department and created a new fire marshal position. He upped training requirements and purchased new equipment, such as a new fire truck.

While things seemed to be going well, some firefighters resisted the changes and others left the department.

On Nov. 3, 2017, Farmington’s city council asked Larsen to resign. Although the city did not publicly give a reason for the dismissal, sources within the department said Larsen had placed too many demands on the volunteer crew, causing unrest.

The Rutland experience reads very much the same.

Larsen was hired in April 2018 and set to work making changes that were praised by city leadership but resisted by some firefighters.

The Herald reports that Larsen attempted to quell the unrest by taking a firmer hand, issuing reprimands and in one case, suspending a firefighter.

The firefighters, with their union backing them, presented their complaints to the city.

According to the Herald, “This letter stated how our members had expressed feelings of frustration and anxiety, which had negatively impacted morale,” the union wrote. “Instead of using the letter as an opportunity to respond to our concerns or repair relations, Chief Larsen became angry and demanded the Union rescind the letter, citing it as a ‘career ending’ letter.”

The mayor told the Herald he had been taken by surprise by the letter and praised Larsen for all of the good changes he had made in the past two years.

Once the suspension ends, Larsen will be on a performance improvement plan and will need to explain himself and his plans to the department.


©2020 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)