Borough's EMT hire draws fire
The hire of former insurance agent Jeff Stout to a full-time job at the firehall has some volunteer firefighters seeing red.
Borough manager Mark Earnest, on the recommendation of the fire department's officers, hired Stout, who started Sept. 13. Firefighter-EMT, the department's second-ranking salaried position, pays $34,445.
Stout remains under investigation by the state Division of Insurance, one year after it revoked his license. The state said he fraudulently provided certificates of insurance to at least four commercial operators who were not actually covered with liability or auto insurance.
"It's an open investigation. It's still in progress," investigator Rick Jones told the Chilkat Valley News Monday. Jones said his office was working with the state's attorney general on the case, but would not otherwise comment.
Firefighters say Stout's mistakes go beyond four cases reported in the CVN one year ago. Stout declined comment for this story.
Thad Stewart is one of several firefighters concerned about the choice of Stout to the department's number two job. Stewart said he found out last year that money he'd paid Stout for insurance coverage of his Fort Seward restaurant hadn't been used to buy a policy.
As a result, the restaurant went without insurance for two years, Stewart said. "I never got a copy of the policy, which was my mistake. I hate to think of the consequences… If somebody had fallen down my steps, I'd probably be paying for it for the rest of my life."
"I'm upset with the decision to hire somebody with suspected misbehavior in the community. The public needs to trust their fire department," Stewart said. Stewart said he received a tip about problems with Stout and only learned he was uninsured when he contacted the company with whom he believed he was insured.
Stewart said Stout at first didn't return calls, then made excuses, and finally showed up at his back door with a check refunding the amount he'd paid.
According to fire chief Scott Bradford, Stout was one of seven applicants for the job. The hiring process included a review by the department's 12 officers, although some were away at the time of the hire.
Bradford said Stout's insurance history came up several times during discussion of the hire, and was relayed to Earnest, who started on the job last spring.
"We discussed it at length with the manager, and what had happened at the insurance company… (Stout) wasn't out for financial gain. He didn't harm anybody," Bradford said.
"We brought it up and asked if there were any possible charges pending or anything, and Jeff stated that as far as he knows, it's a settled deal," Bradford said. Fire department officials didn't independently confirm that information.
Firemen, on joining the fire department, are required to sign a statement that they'll uphold the bylaws of the organization, including a code of honor, according to Al Badgley, the department's lead employee.
Firefighter Mike Borcik said he and others he knows had problems with Stout at his insurance job and that he's "really disappointed" with the decision. "When you have other candidates for the (firefighter) position who are just as qualified, or may be more qualified, it seems like a missed opportunity."
"At every other meeting, time is spent discussing department business. The way I understand it, this wasn't discussed at all," Borcik said.
Borcik said he has missed some meetings, and already is strapped for time but the hiring decision has him rethinking his commitment to the department. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do. This almost feels like the straw that breaks the camel's back."
Larry Jurgeleit is an engine company officer in the department who participated in the vote that led to the hire recommendation. He said his position as an officer prevented him from saying much about it, other than that he aligned himself with Borcik and Stewart on the issue. The vote between the two finalists for the job was very close, Jurgeleit said.
Stout has served on the department for seven years.