Citing ‘toxic’ atmosphere, North Whidbey Fire captain submits resignation after 15 years with department

A captain at North Whidbey Fire and Rescue has announced his resignation citing his lack of trust in the fire commissioners.

After 15 years, Matt VanGiesen notified the board Tuesday he would no longer serve the district. He said the atmosphere in the organization had become “toxic” and he no longer felt supported after the departure of fire chief Mark Kirko.

In a previous interview, Kirko said he left in part because of a lack of trust and support from one commissioner. He did not specify which commissioner.

VanGiesen said he’s taken issue with what he perceived as a lack of transparency by the commissioners. In particular, he named Commissioner Marvin Koorn. He gave an example of an investigation that began last year into Kirko that appears to have no record of being authorized in a public meeting. He claims Koorn, who was board chairman at the time, initiated the investigation.

According to the Open Public Meetings Act, government bodies cannot make decisions outside of public meetings.

Koorn said a complaint was received and sent to the attorney to review. He said policies and other documents are routinely sent to the attorney.

He said the board does not make decisions outside of public meetings. The minutes from the commissioners’ regular meeting on April 10, 2018 show the board went into executive session to discuss “the chief’s job description and disciplinary actions of a member.”

There was no decision made during the session, according to the minutes.

VanGiesen said he’s not confident the board has a concrete “vision” for the future of the district. He said there hasn’t been an adequate effort to increase the budget and instead a tendency to blame the fire chief.

Koorn said the vision is to keep the department mostly volunteer and part time because of budget constraints.

In meetings and an open letter, several volunteers have cited the district’s limited budget as a point of tension and reason for low morale within the district.

VanGiesen said he thinks there should be more of a process to involve the volunteers in decision-making processes, or at least a better system of communication once decisions are made.

He said when policies are changed, often the volunteers aren’t notified.

“They don’t have to listen to us, but they should at least hear us,” he said.

The board isn’t supposed to have much contact or interaction with the members, Koorn said.

That responsibility falls upon the fire chief, he said.

VanGiesen hasn’t advocated for other volunteers to resign, and he doesn’t think it’s a poor decision to stay, he said.

“We all want to help our community,” he said of the firefighters. “Hopefully, they can find a way to still do that.”

More in News

City council candidates focus on development at forum

The city of Oak Harbor needs to get out of the way… Continue reading

Piper Travis
County settles for $3.1M in woman’s jail-related death

Jail staff neglected a Whidbey Island woman as she became seriously ill, her family alleged.

Sewage plant recognized as project of the year

Oak Harbor’s new clean water facility was recently honored as one of… Continue reading

Workshop looks at rising sea level

Whidbey Island dwellers may have a interest in the effects rising sea… Continue reading

Man held on $100,000 bail for child porn

An Oak Harbor man admitted to having “multiple gigabytes” of child pornography… Continue reading

Pumpkin pickers needed

Liz Sherman picks sugar pie pumpkins at Sherman’s Pioneer Farm in Coupeville.… Continue reading

Leaders work on plan to end homelessness

Whidbey leaders and residents have been discussing the issue of homelessness for… Continue reading

Agreement reached between hospital, island fire districts

After months of negotiating, North and Central Whidbey fire districts have reached… Continue reading

Getting clean: Family reunites, offers hope for others battling addiction

Daniel and Adriana Aivles were addicted to heroin and living out of… Continue reading

Most Read