Savannah Fire Chief Cleared Of Hostile Work Environment Allegations

A comprehensive investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment in the Savannah Fire & Emergency Services has been completed, and Fire Chief Charles Middleton has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The investigation was sparked by complaints leveled by four ranking officers, Battalion Chiefs John Thad Dixon, Ken Rentiers, Kelly McDaniel and former Fire Marshal Craig Landolt. They blamed Chief Middleton for low morale in the department, accused him of creating a hostile work environment, and even associated four suicides with pressure he put on subordinates.

The city hired two outside firms, Murray Investigative Services LLC and JVI & Associates, to conduct the investigation under the oversight of the Savannah City Attorney. The investigators interviewed over 50 witnesses, and resulted in a mammoth 441 page report.

The report concludes:

  • [Chief] Middleton is a strong-minded manager and leader and can be caustic in dealing with employees he has tasked with assignments.
  • [Chief] Middleton’s stated mission to improve the department’s education and skill levels while seeking national accreditation for the department has caused many complaints of stress.
  • Many of the allegations raised are based on false or exaggerated information.
  • This investigation has not substantiated any illegalities, acts of moral turpitude, or gross excesses of authority by the Chief or any of his subordinates.
  • [Ranking officers who support Chief Middleton] reported that members of the dissident core, including the four battalion chiefs, routinely project animosity and disrespect to the Chief in front of subordinates. They also discuss their complaints with rank and file firefighters, thus fueling unrest and further damaging morale.
  • None of the original complaints, or complaints raised during interviews and follow up investigation have been found to be valid, or supported by evidence.
  • Some of the complaints were found to be false, many were exaggerated. None of the complaints were sustained
  • Obviously, this investigation reveals substantial morale problems emanating from certain disgruntled employees concerning perceived inequities in pay.
  • These are matters that appear to be beyond the scope of the Chiefs authority, and appropriately resolved at the city management level.
  • The Chief is a competent, strong manager. During his ten-year tenure with much hard work by his firefighters and fire officers, they have significantly enhanced the department’s technical and educational qualifications.
  • The ISO Class 1 rating and the accreditation of SFES are a testament to the excellent work performed under the leadership of Chief Middleton.

Here is a copy of the investigation report: 2016-firechiefinvestigation

Congratulations to Chief Middleton.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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