Former Helena Fire Chief Mark Emert

Former Helena Fire Chief Mark Emert, right, listens to a speaker during a firefighter of the year ceremony in this IR file photo.

Helena officials found that former Fire Chief Mark Emert exhibited "unprofessional behavior" on multiple occasions before he resigned from the position in March, documents show. 

An Independent Record records request revealed a report by Helena's human resources department, which investigated allegations that Emert displayed unprofessional and hostile behavior and that he showed a "lack of departmental leadership."

According to a letter from the city's external legal counsel, Christensen & Prezeau, Amy D. Christensen wrote that Emert requested that the city tell the Independent Record that the investigation was not completed and was ongoing at the time of his departure.

The investigative report was completed on March 11. In a March 20 note to Emert, City Manager Ana Cortez wrote that she was continuing the investigation to follow up on his responses. Cortez also notified Emert in the letter that she was placing him on administrative leave with pay during the investigation, and he resigned on March 22. 

At the time, Emert posted a Facebook message outlining his desire to spend more time with his family and said resigning was the "best course of action." He could not be reached for comment. 

The city's investigation included interviews with Emert and other fire department employees, as well as external stakeholders. The investigation found that Emert exhibited "unprofessional behavior" on more than one occasion.

"He regularly yells and uses profanities, often when in a state of anger or frustration," the report said. "Staff is afraid to bring attention to these behaviors because of the recourse they feel could occur."

While the city did not explicitly find that Emert sexually harassed anyone, the investigation notes "it is clear the Chief does speak about women in a sexual way around the firehouse."

"Those who brought this forward thought it was inappropriate, offensive and unacceptable language to be used anywhere," the report said. 

Several of the interviewed subjects were concerned with the way Emert interacted with citizens and community partners and accused him of being unprepared for meetings. He was also accused of shouting at community partners during meetings.

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In one instance, a subject said Emert became angry and vocal after a community partner criticized President Trump's decision to take money from California's wildfire funds and divert them to the border wall.

The report found that Emert also spoke about politics at work and referred to the the fire house's kitchen table as a "free fire zone."

"Investigators are not sure that the level of discussions crosses the line of harassment, however believe that a supervisor, certainly a department head needs to tone down or eliminate their discussion of politics in the workplace," the report said. 

Other subjects said the assistant chiefs kept the department "afloat" and felt that Emert was "disengaged" from day-to-day management. 

Emert's goatee was also a point of contention.

"No one else in the department was able to, but Mark didn't care and grew one anyway because he is the chief," a subject told investigators, calling Emert a "firefighter with a badge."

"He is not a Chief or a leader. Employees are sick of Mark's do what I say not as I do attitude," a subject is quoted as saying in the report.  

Several individuals also said Emert had failed to do the work required of a chief. 

"Over the last three years I would guess the Chief has 1500 hours on the computer searching Facebook, hunting, GIS maps, etc. out of the 6000 hours he should have worked," one individual told investigators. "If someone asked me what I would do different than Mark, the answer would be 'the work.'"

Emert told Cortez in a written response that he felt morale was at an all-time high and the department was moving in a positive direction. He also said certain allegations were fabricated, according to a letter from Cortez to Emert.

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Thom Bridge can be reached at Thom.bridge@helenair.com


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