The Wheat Ridge fire department is experiencing significant changes to its higher ranks, most recently with the exit of Steven Gillespie, who has resigned as fire chief amid controversy.
Gillespie submitted a letter of separation to the Wheat Ridge Fire Protection District's Board of Directors during a Sept. 11 meeting.
Gillespie's resignation came on the heels of three battalion chiefs — who had about 40 years of collective department experience — resigning en masse during a board meeting the week before.
Prior to their resignations, the three officers filed complaints with the board, alleging that they were being subjected to a hostile work environment under Gillespie's leadership.
Fire district board president Jerry Cassel said Gillespie resignation was "due to the impact on morale and present situation of the membership."
"Basically, we had some firefighters who were upset over discipline, and the chief thought it was best to walk away," Cassel said.
Attempts by Colorado Community Media to reach Gillespie for comment were unsuccessful.
Cassel said that Gillespie will officially be on paid administrative leave at least until early October, when a severance package is expected to be worked out. Gillepsie's annual salary was about $105,000, Cassel said.
With Gillespie gone, Battalion Chief Bob Olme has been appointed acting chief. However, Cassel said that the board expects to look outside the department for a new chief.
The three officers who resigned on Sept. 4 were Brian Eberle, Christopher Lukosky and Tim Raub. Cassel said he could not go into specifics about what the firefighters' complaints regarding Gillespie were all about, at least until Gillespie's departure is finalized
Cassel said the board was in the process of looking into the complaints when Gillespie resigned.
"We wanted to bring in an outside mediator and figure out what direction we need to go, and have someone determine if they were valid complaints or if it was (a case of) the tail trying to wag the dog," Cassel said.
There was no mention in the three battalion chiefs' resignation letters as to what their specific complaints regarding Gillespie were all about. But it's clear that they were unhappy with the direction of the department, under Gillespie's leadership.
In one resignation letter, Lukosky, a 9-year member of the fire district, wrote that his "physical and mental health has suffered" as a result of serving under Gillespie.
"I cannot continue to serve as a leader in an organization in which decisions by supervisor cause me to be in violation of my personal and moral integrity," Lukosky said.
Eberle, who had been with the department for more than 10 years, also wrote that he could not stay on with the department without compromising his "personal and moral integrity."
Raub, a 20-year division veteran, did not go into what prompted his decision to resign, instead writing, "If I were given the opportunity to have life over, I would join the department again.
The fire district provides services to Wheat Ridge, Lakewood, Edgewater and Mountain View. Cassel stressed that "fire service to the people is not going to be damaged at all (during the transition)."