Questions about the performance of the Chetek Ambulance Service’s director have been raised by a former employee of the service and his family. CAS Director Ryan Olson has refuted their claims and said they are not accurate and not true.
Roger Klawiter, a former crew chief with the CAS, his wife, Linda Klawiter, and their adult daughter, Ashley Hable, spoke during the public comments part of the Chetek Common Council meeting on April 13.
The Chetek Ambulance Service, like the Chetek Fire Department, is an independent organization run by a board of commissioners. Daily operations are managed by the director, Olson. The commissioners are appointed to the board from the city council and local township boards. The city and townships in the CAS’ coverage area pay subsidies to support the CAS, but the municipal governments do not directly oversee the emergency service operations or the director.
Hable spoke first, describing her familiarity with growing up around small-town emergency service employees and volunteers. Her father has been on the Chetek Fire Department for more than 30 years and has been an EMT for 25 years, she said.
When she became a certified EMT, she decided to not work for CAS because of problems the organization was having due to a “toxic work environment” and because of retaliation against her father, Hable said.
“The [CAS] board came to my dad and asked questions in which he answered truthfully. After that, retaliation began,” she said. It was not confirmed of what specific questions were asked of Roger Klawiter.
“When you hear from EMTs that are on the service that the director is bragging about how he is planning to fire your dad, and that even though the director is taking the EMT course because he has to, he has no intention of working as an EMT to help the service because he wouldn’t get on-call pay and he expects more money for it,” Hable said to the city council.
Hable said Olson was shirking off taking calls by only taking “easy calls” or when asked to assist other responding services.
“I knew, in good conscious, that I could not stand by and watch that type of unprofessional leadership,” Hable said, adding it was resulting in current employees looking for jobs elsewhere.
If the CAS was out of service for 20–50 percent of the time, it would mean longer response times and have a ripple effect on surrounding communities as other ambulance services respond to Chetek calls.
“I think the City of Chetek needs to take a good hard look at the emergency services in the town. It’s a matter of life and death,” she said.
Linda Klawiter spoke next, echoing the comments made by Hable. She said she was scared for residents because of how much the CAS was out of service; 50 to 60 percent in the past weeks, she said.
“This past weekend, the three days, they were out of service 78 percent of those three days,” Linda said.
She said a woman passed away at the Hwy. 53 rest area while waiting for a Barron ambulance to arrive. “I don’t know if it would have made a difference if the ambulance would have gotten there in less than 10 minutes, but there wasn’t a chance for that,” Linda said.
Five EMTs have kept the service running, she said, but they have left the service. Her husband, Roger, was now working for Bloomer Ambulance. Four others were taking jobs elsewhere, she said. It was also affecting the First Responder service, which is a part of the Chetek Fire Department.
A change in leadership was needed. If it happened, more EMTs would work again, Linda said.
Linda repeated Hable’s claim that Roger was the target of retaliation after he answered the ambulance board’s questions.
“The director got found out he was double dipping. The commission came to Roger and asked him and Roger told the truth. He’s been retaliated against,” Linda said.
Roger Klawiter spoke to the council via phone. He was currently on duty for the Bloomer Ambulance service. He was not working in Chetek because “I’m worried I would lose my license because I have ‘done something wrong.’”
Roger said the loss of the experienced EMTs who have a decade or more of experience meant there was no one to pass on tips to the new EMTs.
“All the crew that is there right now has less than five years in. You need us old guys, unfortunately, to help the new guys,” Roger said.
Council member Terry Hight spoke briefly. He thanked Roger, Linda and Hable for speaking. He also thanked Roger for helping care for Hight’s late father. Hight encouraged them to speak to the other town boards about their concerns.
No actions are made by the council during the meeting’s public comments section.
Director refutes claims
Olson, who has been the director of the CAS since early 2018, refuted the claims made by Roger and Linda Klawiter and Hable. What they said was not true or was not accurate, Olson said.
Olson was not at the April 13 meeting but had watched parts of the recorded live stream. It was upsetting, he said on Tuesday, April 20. “I honestly have no idea why they are being said,” he said of the claims being made.
Asked about what Hable said of a toxic work environment driving away EMTs, Olson said it was not true.
“The entire staff that I have talked to does not feel that way. There may be a couple that do, but none of them have approached me or other EMTs about it. I don’t agree with that statement,” he said, adding that no one has left. “No one has quit.”
One of the employees that Hable or Linda had mentioned was asked by Olson and another EMT if they were leaving. That EMT was not leaving, Olson said.
Olson was still in training to become a certified EMT, above his current training as a First Responder. He disagreed with Hable saying he was only taking “easy calls.”
“I go on every run that I’m available to go on. I first respond from either the fire hall or wherever I am at,” Olson said. “If I can leave what I am doing, I will respond to a call.”
Olson said claims of him “double dipping” had been raised by Roger several times, but were addressed and clarified each time. He is employed by both the ambulance service and as the fire chief. Olson said he as not sure what was the misunderstanding about it.
Roger had not been retaliated against either, Olson said. “That’s untrue,” Olson said when asked about it. “He was the crew chief. He was not performing his duties to my expectations and he was demoted from his crew chief position.”
Olson said the demotion happened in 2020. As a personnel issue, he declined to comment specifically on the matter.
The CAS was only out of service about 20 percent of the time, Olson said, not 50 percent or more. Like other ambulance services across the nation, they were facing a shortage EMTs to take open shifts. Olson was hiring more people and placing job ads to try and fix that problem, he said.
Olson said the board was working on resolving the conflicts but he could not comment on any details at this time.