Firefighters angry about firing of North Summit Fire District chief

They accuse administrative board of fostering ‘toxic leadership environment’

Pamela Manson
For The Park Record
The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

The firing of North Summit Fire District Chief Ian Nelson has sparked allegations from firefighters of a “toxic leadership environment” and a lack of transparency at the board that recommended the dismissal.

The Summit County Council, without discussing a reason, voted unanimously on Nov. 22 to end Nelson’s contract “for cause.” The North Summit Fire Service District Administrative Control Board had recommended the termination two days prior to the vote.

A group of firefighters — who said they were writing anonymously because they fear retaliation based on past “vindictive actions” and a toxic environment created by Administrative Control Board members — say in a statement released this week that they are disappointed to see Nelson forced out. The firefighters say the former chief made the district better by organizing an EMT class, helping it become an American Heart Association training site where community members are taught CPR and adding a volunteer medical control officer to the ranks.

“The individuals who make up the Board have demonstrated they place themselves and their wants above what is best for the community and its Fire Department,” the statement says.

Nelson, who was hired in July 2020 for the part-time fire chief position, could not be reached for comment.

Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said he could not comment because the dismissal is a personnel matter.

The North Summit Fire District is made up of volunteer firefighters and serves Coalville, Henefer, Echo, Upton, Chalk Creek, Wanship, Hoytsville, Tollgate and Rockport State Park.

Kenneth Smith, the retired chief of the North Summit Fire Service, claimed board members are purging the Fire District of anyone who has “offended their delicate sensibilities.”

“There is an open admission by current fire board members that the culture at the fire district needs radical change, but changed to what?” Smith said in a statement addressed to district citizens. “They accuse us of being a ‘good ole boy network.’ But where is proof of that? Was it opening up the ranks to people who worked but didn’t live in the fire district? Was it the recruitment of women to our responder ranks and our Fireboard?”

South Summit Fire District Chief Scott Anderson also weighed in, writing in a letter published Wednesday in The Park Record that no reason was given for the termination.

“When asked why, the reply was that it is a private matter,” the letter says. “What happened to government transparency? The only thing that anyone would say is that the reason was not criminal.”

Nelson has a deep desire to serve the community along with his brothers and sisters in the fire service, Anderson says in his letter.

“He has high standards he is committed to doing the right thing for the right reason in any situation,” he says. “Could it be that he did what a fire chief is supposed to do, stand up for his firefighters and the public? Could it be that he challenged those people with experience and insights they don’t have?”

The Administrative Control Board is beginning the recruiting process for a full-time chief who will have more duties than the previous two chiefs.

Nelson was Morgan County emergency services director and fire director from December 2015 until November 2018, when he was terminated from his job. He later filed a lawsuit in federal court against the county and three Morgan County Council members alleging that he was terminated because he was a whistleblower who revealed misuse of county property and, among other claims, that his First Amendment right to free speech had been violated.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins ruled in August that Nelson had failed to show his protected speech was a substantial motivating factor in his termination and dismissed the suit.

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