A long time Blue Earth Firefighter has resigned and two were fired as the result of a failed plot to undermine Blue Earth Fire Chief Steve Brown, which was brought to light through an internal investigation and fact finding report ordered by the Blue Earth City Council.
As early as February of 2022 and through August of 2022, Assistant Chief Ashley Bleese, Captain Jim WIrkus and Lt. Nick Bleese, Jr. expressed their dissatisfaction with how Chief Brown was running the department. Early on in March, these complaints made their way to City Hall, where the officers were then instructed by the City to give Brown the opportunity to settle in to his role.
On August 10th, the three officers drafted formal letters of complaint to City Hall. After reviewing the letters, the city publicly stated their continued support for Chief Brown.
In response, Ashley Bleese, Nick Bleese, Jr., and Jim Wirkus submitted their letters of resignation, effective immediately, from their officer posts, while still serving as firefighters. After which, new officers were appointed in the department.
According to the report, the following months had several incidents of personal and professional conflict between the three former officers and other firefighters, as well as with Chief Brown, from expletive laden rants to willful disobedience and malicious compliance.
On December 6th, 2022, according to the internal investigation’s report, during a mutual aid call to a fire at a dairy farm, an anonymous complaint was made to the Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy on scene that Chief Brown smelled of alcohol. In the presence of Police and Fire Personnel, law enforcement questioned Brown and administered a breathalyzer test.
The breathalyzer showed the Chief Brown tested negative for alcohol in his system.
It was after this event that the City Council decided to order an internal investigation.
As a result of this investigation, it was revealed that Nick Bleese, Jr., through self admission, reportedly “thought” he smelled alcohol on Chief Brown at the time and shared this with Wirkus. Wirkus admitted to the investigator that he had made the complaint to law enforcement.
These admissions, along with first hand accounts from the three men chronicling their own roles in the unrest at the department, led to the city ultimately deciding to terminate Nick Bleese, Jr. and Jim Wirkus.
Ashley Bleese resigned from his position with the fire department.
When the city was asked for comment, they wished to state that they maintain their original position in support of Chief Steve Brown and the remaining members of the Blue Earth Fire Department.