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Wilson comes under fire for ‘attack’

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

A woman is accusing the Austin fire chief of attacking her during a city meeting Thursday.

On Tuesday, Carla McCarthy addressed the Austin City Council about her incident with Fire Chief Dan Wilson, for which she filed a report with Austin police.

McCarthy told the council she attended a fire committee meeting at city hall that was to discuss scheduling options for staffing the fire station at all hours.

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At one point, Wilson "attacks me," McCarthy said, saying he "turned around, he pushed my chair against the wall and was screaming at me in my face. Obviously I was not the only one in the room at the time that was thinking he was going to physically attack me. But he didn’t stop there."

Wilson allegedly threatened that, if McCarthy’s business or home in Austin caught fire and he had only three firefighters at the station, he wouldn’t send fire trucks out, McCarthy said.

"He screamed that I could burn to the ground," McCarthy said.

Wilson did not attend Tuesday’s council meeting and couldn’t be reached for comment this morning.

Council chambers were packed during McCarthy’s speech. Many people also had come for street-improvement hearings.

Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp said an agency other than the Austin police will be investigating to avoid any appearances of a conflict of interest.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said the investigative report likely will be forwarded to a prosecutor outside of Mower County to consider if charges should be filed against Wilson.

"We don’t want a conflict of interest," Stiehm said.

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The city needs to take care of the matter the right way, he said.

Craig Byram, a city attorney, advised the council, before discussing the matter, to wait for the investigation to conclude, which should be within a few days.

Council members, including the mayor, have a lot of concern with what happened at that meeting, Stiehm said. The mayor called McCarthy’s concerns "legitimate," saying McCarthy voiced an opinion at the meeting and got a reaction from Wilson that was, "at minimum, inappropriate."

Stiehm said he was out of the meeting room at the time but other council members were present.

City Administrator Jim Hurm and council member Jeff Austin, who heads the fire committee, both declined comment on the matter while it’s under review.

Council member John Martin said the council has a moral and ethical reason to at least have a meeting to discuss the matter. Citizens don’t feel safe since the incident, he said.

Martin said he’s surprised Wilson remains the chief, saying Wilson should’ve been put on a paid leave.

McCarthy said she’s holding the council accountable for Wilson, no matter the investigation’s outcome.

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"You cannot allow this to continue," she said of Wilson’s behavior.

McCarthy called Wilson’s actions a "vicious threat" and something "unforgivable" to her. McCarthy said she took the incident personally because a firefighter saved her as a child from a burning barn in 1967 north of Albert Lea.

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