FRENCHTOWN – For the second time in as many years, the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department is looking for a new chief.
John Bibler resigned Wednesday afternoon after a two-month fire board investigation into sexual harassment and intimidation charges, and the board of trustees agreed Wednesday night to accept the resignation.
Board chairman Ray Winn read a 98-word statement at a special board meeting called to resolve the investigation after the board huddled in executive session for less than 20 minutes.
“Chief Bibler believes his decision is in the best interest of the fire district,” Winn read. “The board of trustees has determined that privacy interests of its members outweigh the public’s right to disclosure of the details of the investigation. As such, the board of trustees will not be making further comment on the issue at this time.”
Winn said the board will convene a search committee for a new chief as soon as possible.
Bibler, a veteran of fire service in Washington, was hired in 2009 to take the place of his embattled predecessor, Scott Waldron. Waldron left the department in an acrimonious clash with several board members and filed a civil suit against the district that was eventually settled out of court.
Bibler wasn’t present, but several of his accusers were among the 30 people at the Frenchtown Fire Station for the special board meeting. They were former volunteers who’d either resigned or been suspended from the department during the two-month investigation.
They said Bibler’s resignation wasn’t enough for them.
“I think this is good for the district, but it doesn’t resolve the issues of the allegations that were brought forward and the damage that was done to this department and to the volunteers,” said Jenny Ross.
Ross went public at the December board meeting with accusations that Bibler sexually harassed and intimidated her and several other volunteers and staff members. Another volunteer, David Streeter, sent an unsigned letter to the board last summer claiming he had witnessed and was aware of a number of occasions in which Bibler made sexual advances to “several of the female staff within the department.”
Bibler has been on voluntary leave of absence and later paid administrative leave during the investigation.
Winn said he was surprised by the resignation. The board, which hired a private investigator to look into the allegations against the chief, had planned on resolving the issue Wednesday night after a meeting of the board and lawyers on Tuesday.
“We figured on a long night tonight to put it all together,” said Winn. “I’m sort of happy we’ve come to a point where we can start over now. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
Deputy chief Frank Stanley and staff will run the department until a new chief is found, Winn said. The district received 26 applications from around the nation in its last search.
Winn’s seat on the five-member board and that of Glenn Green both expire in May. Neither will run for reelection.
The board will begin the search for a new chief, he said, but it’ll probably be the new board that selects Bibler’s successor.