The longtime Putnam Township fire marshal was terminated this week.
A special meeting was held Tuesday evening and the Putnam Township Board voted 5-0 to terminate Fire Marshal Jennifer Koch. Trustees Norm Klein and Tom Chambers were absent. Koch has been with the department for 23 years in different capacities, with the last three as fire marshal. Koch has attributed her termination to alleged harassment from Fire Chief Curt Ruf, who took over earlier this year after the retirement of longtime Chief Greg Amburgey. Ruf told WHMI that says an informal meeting was held with Koch last Thursday related to an employee-type dispute – after which she walked off the job and then did not call or show up for work Friday. He says Koch did file harassment claims, which the township investigated and determined were unfounded. Ruf stressed that Koch was not let go due to any harassment allegations but because she abandoned her job, which puts public safety and the community at risk.
In a Facebook post following Tuesday’s meeting, Koch said she was in a state of disbelief and the situation is not right or fair as she filed two complaints of a toxic work environment. Koch says she informed the township she would no longer be tolerating the harassment and would not be able to return to work until it ceased. She says after attending an interview on the matter Monday, she returned to work on a good faith effort – only to be suspended pending approval of termination by the board for leaving work on Thursday without notifying the fire chief and not going to work on Friday. Koch went on to thank the community for the support over the last 14 years as she grew in to her position as fire marshal. The full post can be viewed at WHMI.com.
Koch filed complaints alleging a hostile work environment and that Ruf verbally abused and belittled her in front of a lower ranking firefighter. Koch further believes her termination and retaliation was related to her husband, firefighter Sean Spence, filing complaints against the township last year. Those were reportedly related to different reprimands from Ruf related to dress code and allegations the department didn’t follow guidelines by letting him work simultaneously for a different fire department. Spence was initially suspended in June and then fire in July by the township board.
Township Supervisor Dennis Brennan told WHMI “I have full confidence in Chief Curt Ruf and I firmly believe that he was doing everything in his power to make Fire Marshall Koch a better officer, through coaching and counseling. Unfortunately, every attempt seemed to be met with charges of harassment by FM Koch against the Chief. In the two cases where she filed a complaint claiming harassment, she provided no specific description of behavior that could be considered harassment. In addition, there was a witness in both of those incidents that could not substantiate her claims. We found her reasoning for leaving her shift was unwarranted and inexcusable. Again on Friday she failed to report for duty without notice”. Koch Facebook photo. (JM)