Wisconsin IAFF Local President Fired Over Social Media Post

The president of a Wisconsin International Association of Firefighters local was terminated last week over a social media post that criticized understaffing over the Memorial Day weekend. Spencer Nett, president of IAFF Local 5026, was terminated by the Dells-Delton EMS Commission on August 4, 2022.

Nett’s post complained that only two EMS units were in service this year as opposed to three to four in years past. The Commission claimed that was not accurate and constituted a “terminable” offense. However, Nett claims it was the truth and that his punishment was retaliation.

Nett and Local 5026 have been at odds with Lake Delton’s Director of Public Safety, Daniel Hardman. The dispute culminated first in Local 5026 taking a vote of no confidence in Hardman in February, 2022, and second in Hardman being investigated for workplace harassment and abuse of power. Hardman, who is also the police chief, was cleared of any wrongdoing on April 26, 2022. That same day, the fire chief of the Delton Fire Department, Darren Jorgenson, was placed on administrative leave. He resigned as chief on July 1, 2022 but remains employed as an EMT.

WiscNews quoted Nett as saying:

  • This is very much a matter of public concern when we start talking about short staffing, exactly what that post addressed, both in the form of resignations, now terminations, as well as people moving on to different departments for various reasons.
  • Regardless of reasoning why they left, those numbers don’t lie of short staffing. When you go from staffing three or four trucks on a typical summer day down to staffing two trucks, that absolutely is a reduction in staffing, exactly what Local 5026 did address.
  • It’s unequivocally true that there was short staffing.
  • That can be proven that they had to bring in a staffing agency to staff the ambulances. I think it’s a hard fact to dispute that you have low staffing when you’re hiring outside staffing to make par numbers, or less than par numbers.
  • Local 5026, myself included, and every member of that department, truly does have the best intentions in mind for the community and that department.
  • This situation is no different.

Local 5026 has already filed a unfair labor practice charge with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission relative to the February, 2022 allegations. Nett is promising to challenge to his termination. Here is more on the story.

Those who have been through our training programs will recognize the two major issues that arise in these types of cases:

  • First Amendment – free speech – protection
  • Concerted Activities protection

Either grounds could serve as a basis for Nett’s ultimate reinstatement. We will touch on this topic in next week’s Drafting & Implementing Effective Fire Department Policies & Procedures. This will likely be the last delivery of this program in 2022 as I am booked into 2023.

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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