Firefighter accused of wrong doing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2000

The fate of long-time Austin firefighter Dana Miller is now in the hands of the Austin Fire Civil Service Commission.

Saturday, July 22, 2000

The fate of long-time Austin firefighter Dana Miller is now in the hands of the Austin Fire Civil Service Commission.

Email newsletter signup

He admitted making a mistake, and his accusers are asking for his dismissal from employment with the city.

After a four-hour hearing Friday, the three-member commission adjourned and will have three business days this week (Monday through Wednesday) to reach a decision, according to James W. Cavanaugh, commission chair.

A written decision must be turned over to Miller and his employer, the city of Austin, by Thursday.

The city is seeking to terminate Miller’s employment, because it alleges he violated both the existing contract between the local firefighters’ union and the city as well as the city’s own personnel handbook’s rules of employment.

Miller is alleged to have falsified records to claim a premium pay as a certified emergency medical technician in addition to his firefighter’s pay.

The amount of money he alleged illegally received is $650.

The commission members include Steve Booher and Ken Howe in addition to chairperson Cavanaugh.

"What he did was wrong," said Austin Fire Chief Dan Wilson, during Friday’s hearing. "He ignored the opportunity to come forward and correct that thing."

Asked again why the city is seeking the dismissal of the long-time employee with the fire chief’s acquiescence, Wilson said, during the hearing, "It has to do with trust and honesty" because firefighters enter homes, businesses and public buildings in the course of their duties and, Wilson added, "There cannot be any question as to the integrity and honesty of our employees."

When questioned, during the hearing, Miller admitted to the commission, under direct questioning, from Beckman that he had falsified the document to continue to receive the premium pay – one-half of one-percent of his base bay – and retain employment with the city.

"I did alter it," he said in a soft voice.

Asked why he falsified the document, Miller replied "to allow myself some time to see if I could correct a very wrong situation and to make it correct."

The fire chief testified that neither firefighters working with Miller nor the public were in anyway threatened during the period when Miller’s EMT certification was invalid.

Friday’s hearing was held in the Austin City Council Chambers.

The city was represented by attorney John Beckman, who acted as a prosecutor in the hearing process.

Miller and Mike Stockstead of the International Association of Firefighters – Local 590, plus Brian Lovik, president of the local firefighters’ union, defended Miller’s actions.

A certified court reporter recorded the exchange between both parties and commission members, as well as witnesses called to testify.

The misconduct charges were filed June 27.

Beckman began his opening statement saying it was a "sad duty" to seek the dismissal of the long-time firefighter.

The commission members heard testimony from Fire Chief Dan Wilson, city administrator Pat McGarvey, city finance officer Tom Dankert and Austin Fire Commander Jim Mattice. The deposition of a state agency worker who verified Miller’s EMT certification had lapsed and was not renewed was admitted into the official record of the proceedings.

Fire Chief Wilson testified Miller was the only firefighter to claim EMT certification at the time the falsification was discovered. He also testified Miller sought an increase paid firefighters who were also EMT certified at the time of city-union contract talks in 1998.

Wilson discovered the falsification early this year and informed city officials, who ordered Beckman to conduct an investigation.

According to testimony, Miller was, indeed, a certified EMT, a qualification dating back to when the Austin Fire Department was staffed by entirely all full-time firefighters, who also provided ambulance services.

When the department ceased to offer ambulance services and a private agency took them over, Miller retained his certification as an EMT.

In the mid-1990s, the city decided to change the department from all full-time firefighters to a combination full- and part-time staffed department.

Former long-time fire chief, Dan Miller, retired and Wilson was appointed to replace him.

Miller, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dan Miller, has 24 years experience.

Wilson joined the department in 1984 and became fire chief in 1993.

Miller acknowledged falsifying the EMT document when confronted and called it a "terrible mistake."

He was suspended for 60 days without pay and only recently – last week – returned to work.

The fire civil service commission’s consideration of the dismissal of a veteran firefighter is the most public incident, involving Wilson and the firefighters.

Both the fire chief and firefighters are at odds. A year ago, two firefighters, both long-time veterans, Paul Behn and Ron Felten, took firefighters’ concerns to the Austin City Council and complained publicly.

Arguments have been common in the fire department work place, and at times, they have led to physical confrontations. The Austin Police Department was summoned to one such confrontation between the fire chief and a commander.

Grievances have been filed by union members through official channels, but, thus far, Wilson has retained the support of city officials.