Steese fire chief fired amid allegations

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The volunteer fire chief in the Steese area has been fired over allegations he misrepresented his job experience and forged signatures in an employee disciplinary case.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough terminated Nicholas Rich on Monday.

Borough officials declined to say what triggered an investigation that led to Rich's firing.

''It's a confidential personnel matter that still is not closed because we're still looking into all the allegations,'' said Sallie Stuvek, the borough's human resources director.

But according to a termination letter by the borough, Rich allegedly filed documents in the Steese area administrative employee's permanent records that contained forged signatures. The letter states the claim has been confirmed by two experts. The letter calls the act a criminal matter that will be pursued.

Rich said the signatures are the administrative employee's and the allegation is in retribution to disciplinary action he took against the employee.

The letter also states that Rich misrepresented his experience as chief with the Adelanto Airport Fire Department in California. Rich said on his application that he supervised more than 110 people during his tenure as chief.

Rich said when he was first hired as chief at Adelanto in 1996, he had a staff of only 10 and two trucks that weren't suitable to drive on the streets. By the time the department was consolidated into the growing San Bernadino County Fire Department six years later, Adelanto's department had grown to include 48 paid positions and eight apparatus, he said.

He acknowledged the department didn't get many calls within its five-mile area, which included a small airport and an industrial area that paid for the department. Instead, they saw much more action sending 15- to 20-person crews to fight wildland fires for the California Department of Forestry. Rich said it was during this time he supervised the 110-plus people while working a wildland fire in Oregon in Aug. 2001.

Stuvek said Rich could have challenged the allegations, but chose not to when he signed his exit interview paperwork Wednesday.

Rich said he didn't want to fight the firing without help from an attorney, which he can't afford while he's unemployed and raising a family with three young children. He said he also tired of fighting a constant battle with members of the fire service commission and with members within his own department for the last eight months.

Rich was one of two finalists who came to Fairbanks to meet with a hiring board before he was offered the job in August, Stuvek said. The board was made up of a variety of members from the borough and commission. Rich was the first chief of Steese to be hired through the borough. The position pays almost $59,000 a year plus benefits.

Meanwhile, the decision has left the department reeling.

Two of the chief officers at the department, including the deputy chief who had taken the lead since Rich's firing, resigned their positions at a board of director's meeting Wednesday night.

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