This article originally appeared in Isthmus on March 10, 2000
For years, Mike Fuss has produced the Old Firefighter Times, a quarterly newsletter geared toward retired firefighters. But it wasn't until after his own retirement from the Madison Fire Department this January that Fuss, the department's unofficial historian, turned his hoses full blast on the chief, Debra Amesqua.
"The things she's been doing lately are a slam to our intelligence," wrote Fuss in the January 2000 issue. "She's an embarrassment to the department and the citizens of this city. If someone should be fired, it should be her."
Fuss is referring to Amesqua's decision to seek the termination of two veteran firefighters, Lt. Terry Rice and Mike Merkl, after they were convicted on misdemeanor cocaine possession charges. "I've worked with both of them many times, and I've never seen either one of them impaired, act differently or fail to do the job expected of them," he wrote. Fuss also blasted Amesqua's lack of connection to people in the department, and especially her absence from events for retiring firefighters: "She doesn't know the meaning of handling and treating people right."
Joe Conway, the president of Firefighters Local 311, says the word came back to him that Amesqua was upset by the newsletter and planned to propose a six-month ban on its distribution. He thought this was a "ridiculous tack" to take, and assumes Amesqua realized as much, since the idea was never broached.
Fuss began distributing his newsletter in fire stations in the late 1980s, at the request of then- Chief Earle Roberts. And while Roberts, says Conway, occasionally "got slammed by Mike," he viewed the criticism as constructive, in the spirit of "how do we fix this?"
According to Conway, "most of the copies" of the January 2000 newsletter disappeared suddenly from area stations. He blames Amesqua: "We believe she sent someone around to pick them up." Amesqua did not return a phone call seeking comment.