Mike Schutt, Hastings’ longtime fire chief, has resigned after an investigation found he displayed “a lack of professional judgment” in telling his firefighters to use a ladder truck to remove a heavy generator from the roof of a city building, endangering employees and damaging property.
The City Council accepted Schutt’s resignation and approved the separation agreement on Aug. 28, a week after placing him on a five-day paid administrative leave and directing a city attorney “to negotiate with Mr. Schutt’s attorney regarding his employment,” according to an e-mail from Julie Flaten, Hastings’ interim city administrator.
“We wanted to acknowledge [Schutt’s] service to the community … and open up the opportunity for a new chapter,” said Council Member Lori Braucks.
The City Council named as interim fire chief John Townsend, assistant fire and EMS director.
Schutt, who had led the department since 2007, had been under scrutiny before. City officials have had ongoing discussions with him since he was placed on leave after a complaint in 2017, Braucks said. The generator incident in June was a “catalyst” to start the conversation again, she said.
“At some point you have to do something,” she said. “Another council member said it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Terms of the separation include the city paying Schutt $11,107.17 per month through May 2020 and continuing to provide his health insurance to that point. Schutt’s most recent salary was $133,286.40.
Schutt faced reprimands by the city in 2013, 2014 and 2017 for various infractions, including allegations of intimidation and bullying. He returned to work in December 2017 after being placed on a three-month leave while city officials looked into a complaint against him. The City Council at that time voted 4-3 against disciplining him.
Efforts to contact Schutt Thursday were unsuccessful.
Braucks called the generator incident odd and “a little bit reckless.” She said she wasn’t certain why Schutt wanted his crew to move the generator, especially because the city had already hired someone for the job.
City officials planned to lift the generator off the top of the building housing Hastings’ police department in order to replace the chiller and roof. The generator was to go back on later, said Lee Stoffel, a city spokeswoman.
The firefighters who tried to move the generator weren’t trained for the job and ended up tipping it over, according to an investigation by the Minneapolis-based law firm Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney.
The firefighters’ actions caused minor damage to the police department roof — new ceiling tiles and plugging a small leak cost the city $312 — and destroyed the generator. The cost of replacement is not yet known, Stoffel said.
The firefighters attempted to move the generator in the middle of a workday, so there may have been employees in the area directly below them, she added.
In the end, a crane company that had been hired to take the air conditioner off the roof removed the generator, the report said.
When interviewed for the report, Schutt stated that the fire department had been asked to remove the generator weeks before and “justified this decision as being a good training opportunity.”
The report concluded: “Labeling an operation ‘training’ does not automatically make it a good decision professionally or negate safety concerns.” Schutt, it went on, “never asked nor discussed whether his subordinates were qualified … to remove the generator.”