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Moorhead leaders select new fire chief

The council approved Wallin as chief on a recommendation from City Manager Dan Mahli, who described the council's decision Monday as "a big win for Moorhead."

Wallin - Copy.jpeg
Jeff Wallin.
Image courtesy city of Moorhead.
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MOORHEAD — The Moorhead City Council on Monday, Jan. 23, unanimously appointed Jeff Wallin as the city's new fire chief.

The council approved Wallin as chief on a recommendation from City Manager Dan Mahli, who described the council's decision Monday as "a big win for Moorhead."

Wallin, who began working for the city of Moorhead as a firefighter in 1994, said Monday that the fire department has changed significantly since he started, enhancing its services and partnerships with other agencies to improve the quality of life for those who live in, work in and visit the city of Moorhead.

"We will continue to strengthen that customer-first focus as we move forward," Wallin added.

Wallin was named interim fire chief in June of 2021, after Rich Duysen left the position during a period when the fire department was experiencing internal turmoil.

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Although he initially declined to say whether his decision to step away was tied to specific issues, Duysen later shared that a matter involving a high-ranking fire official and other staff friction played a role in his decision.

Duysen's comments were made in the wake of a public records request The Forum made to the city, which brought to light an agreement reached in March of 2021 between the city and fire department official Richard Eggert.

The agreement allowed Eggert to voluntarily demote himself from the rank of battalion chief to the rank of firefighter while maintaining the $103,624 salary he was paid as a battalion chief.

According to language contained in the agreement, at some point prior to March of 2021, the city notified Eggert that it intended to demote him from battalion chief to a firefighter position.

Following a hearing at Eggert's request, the city and Eggert decided both parties would best be served if Eggert voluntarily demoted himself from battalion chief to firefighter, according to the wording of the agreement.

The agreement stressed that because Eggert's action was voluntary "it is not nor can it be construed to be a disciplinary action under law, contract, policy, or the like."

At the time, Mahli said the agreement between the city and Eggert was to some degree the result of an o rganizational assessment of the fire department that city of Moorhead administration authorized in June of 2020.

The review was intended to address reports of internal strife, low morale, as well as intimidation and fear of a potential violent workplace event, according to a report that accompanied the assessment.

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Feedback from the roughly 90% of fire department staff gathered during the review revealed that the fire department faced significant morale and cultural challenges in a number of key areas.

The department review also found a lack of confidence in a promotion structure that historically promoted internally based on seniority and not who was the best fit for the job.

City officials did not disregard concerns identified in the review, the report outlining the review said, but instead took action, including the implementation of processes aimed at identifying and addressing behaviors that negatively affect the work environment.

Michelle Soldo, an attorney and founder of Soldo Consulting , which conducted the report, said the "city administration did its part to set the state for organizational change; now Moorhead Fire Department staff must do their part."

Hints of ongoing discord in the fire department surfaced in November, when several firefighters sent an email to Mahli expressing dissatisfaction with the fire department's leadership.

The city hired Soldo Consulting to explore the letter's complaints and an investigation summary recently released by the city outlined a number of findings, a major one being that the investigation did not corroborate and actually refuted a claim made in the letter that the fire department's policy on who could take vacations and when, had been unilaterally changed by Wallin without input from battalion chiefs.

The summary also stated that no corroboration could be found for other claims made in the letter and it said that actions taken by Wallin as interim fire chief were consistent with directives from city leadership and reflected an attempt to address practices that were negatively affecting fire department morale, retention and recruitment.

According to the city of Moorhead, Wallin's salary as fire chief will be $139,504. Duysen's salary when he left the job was $139,533.

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In addition to interim chief, other positions Wallin held in the past with the Moorhead Fire Department include assistant fire chief and deputy fire chief.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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