Hales Corners fire captain says he ‘categorically’ denies accusations leveled by chief

Hales Corners Fire Captain John Wagner (PHOTO: Hales Corners Fire Department)

HALES CORNERS -- Hales Corners Fire Chief Martin Freibergs has leveled serious accusations against one of his fire captains, alleging two instances of misconduct within about a month. Captain John Wagner has been placed on paid leave and has denied the allegations, saying he looks forward to giving his account of what happened.

In a letter dated March 4, Chief Freibergs asked the Fire and Police Commission to fire Captain Wagner immediately because of two unrelated incidents.

In a 12-page letter, Chief Freibergs said Captain Wagner, a longtime firefighter, asked a subordinate questions of a "sexual nature" on Dec. 13 that made her feel "upset, uncomfortable, and intimidated." She reported it to another captain on Dec. 20, who encouraged her to take it to the chief, according to the letter. She didn't, but Chief Freibergs found out from someone else on Jan. 8, calling it "egregious."

Hales Corners Fire Department

Alan Olson

Alan Olson is a lawyer who has handled dozens of sexual harassment cases during his 30-year legal career. He said the decision to come forward with accusations can be difficult.

"They're putting, a lot of times, their reputation on the line, their job on the line. They're providing for their family. All of those things are taken into consideration before they bring a complaint," said Olson, with Alan Olson and Associates.

According to the chief's letter, he was informed about the alleged sexual misconduct on Jan. 8. The chief said he began an internal investigation into the matter. While he was doing that, the chief said Wagner violated department policy again when he left the department while he was on duty.

Hales Corners Fire Department

In his letter, Chief Freibergs alleged Captain Wagner left during his shift for a conference in Milwaukee. When a call came in for a car fire, officials had to ask Greendale fire officials to help with the call because Wagner was the only one to operate the engine and he wasn't there.

Chief Freibergs said it was "jeopardizing the public safety." In the letter, Wagner claimed he sent the chief an email about it.

Hales Corners Fire Department

"Even had Captain Wagner believed Chief Freibergs was going to cover his shift based on a November 2018 email, Captain Wagner should not have left his shift without making contact with the Chief to verify such coverage," the letter said.

In a statement to FOX 6, Wagner said: "I categorically deny the accusations leveled at me. I will provide a full and compete rebuttal of them at a hearing before the Fire and Police Commission scheduled in April."

Fire and Police Commission President Ian Thomson said Captain Wagner is entitled to a fair and due process, including his opportunity to speak at the April hearing.

Wagner filed a voluntary separation agreement, saying he would leave the department, but that action was denied by the board. Thomson said that matter was discussed in a closed session and he could not explain publicly why it was denied.

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