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Jackson Hole Fire Chief offered severance pay

JACKSON, Wyo. (KIFI) – UPDATE: 1/30/24 – Jackson Hole Fire Chief Stephen Jellie has been offered severance pay by county commissioners.

Coming up, Local News 8 talks with Jellie about the situation first.

Watch live on Local News 8 at Noon.

JACKSON, Wyo. (KIFI) - There is a growing controversy in Jackson, Wyo. after the head of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS was put on administrative leave.

Stephen Jellie became the Chief of Jackson’s Fire Department a little more than a year ago, but in recent months, volunteers, staff and several community members have petitioned the Teton County Board of Commissioners to call for Jellie’s resignation. 

In a Board of Commissioners meeting Dec. 18, 2023, Bernhard Sieber, a fire volunteer in Hoback, called Jellie’s leadership a “911 emergency.”

“Steven Jellie has brought a new view and a very experienced financial background to the department,” Sieber siad. “Steven Jelle has also brought erosion of trust. Degradation of moral and safety concerns including mental health throughout the department.”

Jack Krillm, another volunteer firefighter, accused Jellie of being threatening and demeaning of employees.

“An unqualified, inexperienced and tyrannical chief is heading us toward a catastrophe," Krill said. “A change is needed to provide for the safety of the firefighters and the public.”

Jellie, however, has been adamant in his own defense. Before being put on administrative leave, Jellie reached out to the Jackson radio station KHOL to tell what he called “the real side of the story.”

Jellie said upon taking the job it had become his responsibility to the taxpayers to cut costs and reduce safety concerns outlined in a 172 page report by Gannon emergency solutions financed by Jackson Hole Fire/EMS in 2021.

“We had a 172-page report done by a highly competent consulting firm,” Jellie said. “…issued about a year before my arrival, that detailed 115 recommendations for improvement, some of which were characterized as leading us on the path to a line-of-duty death.

Of those, the Gannon report summarizes seven major issues within the Jackson Fire Department.

  1. Lack of Strategic Planning
  2. Strained Relationships between Battalion Chiefs and Career Line Staff
  3. Career and Volunteer Relationships
  4. Shift-to-Shift Inconsistencies
  5. Absence of Accountability Across the Department
  6. Unprepared for an ISO Review
  7. Safety and Health Concerns

While Jellie acknowledged his communication when he started the job was less than excellent, he said his focus was on addressing the immediate issues from a safety perspective.

“From my point of view, when I got here, my budget had a significant shortfall,” Jellie said. “We were trending close to $1 million over our current budget year. So, yeah, it put me in a sort of an immediate reaction mode. Not a lot of time to maneuver, not a lot of time to coordinate, collaborate and certainly communicate to the degree that I think some people would have liked. I think that’s what’s caused a level of, “Hey, what’s he going to do next?’”

During the Dec. 18 meeting, 17-year fire department veteran and captain Tyler Dunn echoed Jellie’s concerns in his defense.

“Chief Jellie has significant institutional knowledge, a great understanding and application of the chain of command. and a decisive and proactive approach to our mission,” Dunn said. “Simultaneously, he’s extremely fiscally intelligent and responsible. I can personally say that I have learned more about 360-degree leadership from Chief Jellie in the past year than I have learned in my previous 16 years.”

The Gannon report also uncovered “a department wide lack of accountability” and “a general ‘us and them’ culture between Career and Volunteer groups” like the volunteer firefighters who called for Jellie’s resignation.

According to the report, “Only a handful of members have come from outside of the organization and area. Sometimes these outside members are met with resistance throughout the ranks.” 

Jellie said his experience in the Jackson Fire department was “not uncharacteristic of whenever a chief from the outside of an organization like this gets brought in.”

According to the Gannon Report, “A change in culture is needed to prevent a future tragedy such as a significant loss of property and life, both citizens and firefighters.”

Article Topic Follows: Wyoming

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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8.


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