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FOX 13 Investigates: Firefighters laid off after voicing concerns about chief’s affair

Morgan County defends decision to terminate volunteers rather than the chief who broke policy
Posted at 10:02 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 15:17:31-04

MORGAN COUNTY, Utah — Three members of the Morgan County Fire Department say they were let go because they voiced concerns about the chief having an extramarital affair with his subordinate.

Now they accuse the county of trying to cover up what the chief did.

Each of the three volunteer firefighters and EMTs were let go without an investigation, simply told their services were “no longer needed.”

Meanwhile, Chief Boyd Carrigan confessed to breaking Morgan County policy and was given a written warning.

The chief’s discipline has never been reported or discussed publicly.

Chief Carrigan is married. Last month, coworkers said he could not be reached for comment about the affair because he was "on vacation with his wife.”

FOX 13 has chosen not to identify the female firefighter involved in the affair, as she is not accused of breaking policy.

Members of the Morgan County Fire Department say, for months, the relationship was an open secret.

“You would see them both at the fire station late at night,” said Patrick Murphy, a former captain with the Morgan County Fire Department. “Subtle jokes here and there that were flirtatious in nature, sexual innuendo, the way she would bat her eyes at him.”

“They would kind of light up when they’d see each other,” added Jaden Ingle, former deputy chief of the Morgan County Fire Department. “I noticed the mood changed between the two of them whenever they were in the room together. It was – now looking back on it – very obvious.”

FOX 13 filed a public records request with Morgan County, asking for copies of all emails and text messages exchanged between Chief Carrigan and the female firefighter over a span of 41 months.

The county responded, stating "no records exist."

Both Ingle and Murphy say they confronted Chief Carrigan with concerns about the inappropriate relationship in November.

Ingle said he also filed a complaint with Emily Wilde, the assistant director of human resources for Morgan County.

"She said, 'I’ll look into him. I’ll open an investigation right now and we’ll try to find out what’s going on,'" Ingle said.

When FOX 13 requested a copy of the complaint, Morgan County Human Resources said the records "did not exist."

"Just because there isn’t a physical copy doesn’t mean something did or didn’t happen," Wilde wrote in an email to FOX 13. "We do not comment on personnel matters out of respect for the privacy of any volunteers or employees involved."

On January 20, 2021, both Ingle and Murphy were released from their jobs.

According to public records obtained by FOX 13, neither Ingle nor Murphy have had any complaints filed against them.

“It’s because I had suspicions of their affair, and I’m not okay with it,” Murphy said.

“I think the fact that (Chief Carrigan) did that with a subordinate is completely wrong, and I think the only fair thing in my mind is he needs to lose that position,” Ingle said.

Ingle’s fiancée, another firefighter, was also let go that same day. Ingle said he felt like she was let go simply because of their relationship. She has not spoken to FOX 13.

A few days before their termination, Murphy was disciplined. He described write up as being “targeted” for taking part in a “lighthearted prank” to boost morale.

"We found some Star Wars wall decals in a clearance bin at the local grocery store, and we thought it would be funny to put them on stuff at the station. Like the bathroom doors had blasters on the little mannequins." -Patrick Murphy

“We found some Star Wars wall decals in a clearance bin at the local grocery store,” Murphy described. “We thought it would be funny to put them on stuff at the station.”

“It was a Star Wars sticker,” Ingle said. “It wasn’t anything profane. It was just a storm trooper’s head. We did it as a little joke.”

Ingle said he was forced to write up Murphy, at the chief's request.

Murphy did not sign the paperwork, instead writing: “Per advice from Utah VA, I formally request a formal hearing by the county council under ADA law."

Termination paperwork for each of the three firefighters makes no mention of the affair or the incident involving Star Wars stickers.

The only reason stated was “no longer needed.”

“They were desperately looking for people as soon as we were let go,” Murphy said. “It was clear to me that this was a cover up.”

"To say that no volunteers are needed and within a couple of weeks volunteers are needed so desperately?" Ingle asked. "It makes no sense."

Ingle and Murphy have indicated they are in the process of filing wrongful termination complaints.

“With the VA, I am registered 100 percent disabled,” Murphy said. “They were giving me a significant wage, and they had promised me employment.”

“As a government employee, we are entitled to due process,” Ingle said.

Chair Robert McConnell of the Morgan County Commission disagreed.

“I agree that Americans are generally entitled to due process under given circumstances,” McConnell said. “I don’t understand that the protections arising under employment law extend to volunteers... that there needs to be a reason for volunteer relationships to be ended.”

McConnell pointed out that the Morgan County Fire Department is comprised mostly of paid volunteers.

Chief Carrigan is one of the only full-time employees.

“The whole volunteer thing is really a loose term,” Murphy argued. “We were getting paid.”

“I was aware that, in title, I was a volunteer... I didn't get health insurance from them, so if anything happened to me, it’s on me,” Ingle said. “But it’s my community. It was my home. It’s the people I grew up with. It’s those people that are my home that I’ve lost the ability to serve.”

The Utah Labor Commission does not comment on specific cases, but said – in general – sometimes volunteers can be reclassified as employees on a case-by-case basis.

“Federal courts around the country have recognized that a volunteer can be considered an employee, but it depends upon the particulars of the relationship between the volunteer/employee and the employer,” said Eric Olsen, a spokesperson for the Utah Labor Commission. “What is this ‘volunteer’ getting for what they’re doing? It has to be substantial, and it has to be significant (to be considered an employee). It can’t just be, well, they get a t-shirt.”

“Employees have certain rights by law,” Olsen continued. “Volunteers are a little bit different, by definition.”

Morgan County compensation for Captain Patrick Murphy (left) and Deputy Chief Jaden Ingle (right) in 2020.

According to county records, Ingle made $20,481 as deputy chief in 2020.

Murphy made $6,382 as a captain.

“A volunteer does not receive hourly compensation, but receives (nominal) stipends,” said Morgan County Attorney Garrett Smith. “Payment that is based upon a per hour basis will be considered to be compensation thereby creating an employee. On the other hand, per call or per shift stipends are treated differently.”

Ingle argued his compensation was high enough to be considered an employee.

According to the United States Department of Labor, fees paid to volunteer firefighters are “nominal as long as it does not exceed 20 percent of what the public agency would otherwise pay to hire a full-time (employee) for the same services.”

The chief's punishment

The day after their termination, on January 21, 2021, documents show Chief Carrigan admitted to being involved in an “intimate relationship (e.g. sexual, dating, etc.)” with a volunteer.

He was issued a “final written warning” for violating Morgan County policy.

“Morgan County prohibits Department Head/ Elected Official or supervisor from having an intimate relationship (e.g. sexual, dating, etc.) with employees under their direct management,” the paperwork states.

According to the documents, the chief had not "been counseled on this or a similar incident before."

"I saw them texting each other, so obviously the county is lying," Murphy said.

When approached by FOX 13 for his side of the story, Chief Carrigan initially said he would be willing to speak in the presence of the new county attorney.

He asked us to wait outside, but never came back out.

“I had a phone conversation with the (previous) county attorney,” Murphy told FOX 13. “He advised (the Morgan County Commission) to fire (Chief Carrigan) and fire him immediately.”

County Attorney Jann Farris decided to leave Morgan County after the conclusion of this case.

In a phone call with FOX 13, Farris declined to comment on his recommendations to the Morgan County Commission.

Despite the disciplinary paperwork, McConnell told FOX 13 he believes the chief did not break policy by having an “intimate relationship” with an employee under his direct management, because technically the “employee” was a volunteer.

He defended the county’s decision to not fire Chief Carrigan due to the potential strain it would put on the department.

“Letting the volunteers go would have been far less significant than terminating the fire chief,” McConnell said. “Making that decision would have implicated a whole ‘nother search for another fire chief... It’s not easy.”

Sources tell FOX 13, behind closed doors, two of the five Morgan County Commissioners voted for the chief to be fired. The remaining three thought a warning would be more appropriate.

"We’ve been happy with the leadership that he’s demonstrated within the department," McConnell said.

“What was your personal vote on the matter?” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“I’m not going to discuss that,” McConnell responded.

“Did you follow the recommendations of the county attorney?” Herbets asked.

“I don’t have a specific recollection,” McConnell said.

“Do you think this was an appropriate punishment?” Herbets asked.

“I’ll stand by the decision of the commission,” McConnell responded. "Every decision that we make, somebody is going to disagree with it. Just comes with the territory... I hope we don’t ever have these circumstances again."

Because there have not been any public meetings discussing the decision, some people in Morgan County say they only reason they found out about the affair was because of Ingle’s grandfather.

“Most of the people in the county didn’t know, so I put a sign together and I put it on my truck,” explained Mike Ingle. “They never get any information. You see, everything’s so hush-hush there.”

Mike Ingle posted this cardboard sign on his truck after his grandson was terminated from the Morgan County Fire Department.

McConnell defended the decision to keep the chief’s discipline out of the public eye.

“As far as I was concerned, until you called, this had been addressed and handled, and we were moving forward,” McConnell said.

“But this was never handled publicly,” Herbets responded. “This was handled in a closed session.”

“And I think that’s appropriate,” McConnell said.

“Do you think most people in Morgan County know about this case?” Herbets asked.

“Probably not,” McConnell said.

Because of the affair, the female firefighter was told she could no longer volunteer for the department.

Two weeks later, she received a full-time job at the Morgan County Recorder’s Office.

McConnell said she got the job on her own merits, and that the reason the county forced her to leave instead of the chief is because she was easier to replace.

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