Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuit by Former Fire Marshal in Wentzville Claims Firefighters Forced His Ouster

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuit by Former Fire Marshal in Wentzville Claims Firefighters Forced His Ouster

Article excerpt

WENTZVILLE * The former fire marshal of the Wentzville Fire Protection District filed a federal suit Monday against the district and three board members, claiming he lost his job in part because of his disagreement with union firefighters over his backing of a board candidate in 2013.

In August, Joseph Heitkamp was placed on indefinite unpaid administrative leave because of his "inability to perform the essential job function required of the fire marshal relative to investigation of fires," according to a letter from the district.

But in Heitkamp's suit, he claims his backing of James Peanick for an open seat on the district's board of directors made him a target of bullying by firefighters and led to the loss of his job.

Current Fire Chief Mike Marlo referred questions to District Attorney Dan McLaughlin, who said the district had not been served with a copy of the suit.

"Even if we were, it's an ongoing personnel matter, so we wouldn't be able to respond," he said.

District firefighters are members of Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters; they backed Robert Manieri for the board position, donating in excess of $38,000 to his campaign, according to court documents.

"This was done to ensure that a majority of the district's board, which among other things approves the firefighters' compensation package (wages and benefits) would support and act in the interest of the union," the suit says.

In January 2013, after Peanick filed as a candidate, two firefighters David Marlo and Jesse Hakenwerth questioned Heitkamp about whether he had encouraged Peanick to run, the suit alleges. Heitkamp and Peanick are longtime friends, said Heitkamp's attorney, Lynette M. Petruska.

Heitkamp complained on Jan. 9 to then-Chief Randy Bornhop about the harassment, the suit says.

On March 6, 2013, Heitkamp made the following post to his personal Facebook account after it was announced that St. …

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