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Firefighter: former PTC chief preyed on his female subordinates

“He was a predator.”

Those words from Peachtree City Firefighter Martine Piers summarized her thoughts of former Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth, whom she accused of forcing his way into her hotel room late one night in November 2012, as he allegedly attempted to coax her into having sex with him.

In an interview with the city’s human resources department Dec. 18, Piers alleged there were other females in the department who had run-ins with Eiswerth who later shared their stories with her, though she would not speak for them.

“Martine explained that one of the women’s story was 95 percent identical to hers,” according to notes of the HR interview released by the city. “... She said, ‘This is someone in a higher position playing on lonely and single women.’”

The alleged hotel room barge-in incident occurred as Piers, Eiswerth and about eight other firefighters attended a conference in Clearwater, Fla., according to a complaint she filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Piers alleged in the complaint that Eiswerth had sent sexually suggestive texts to her and promised to ‘be discreet’ if she would have sex with him. Piers also alleged this wasn’t the first time that Eiswerth tried to coax her into a sexual tryst, as he would occasionally come by her home and text her as well.

That EEOC complaint led to Eiswerth’s prompt resignation and has drawn a proposed $300,000 legal settlement for Piers. That settlement is pending approval from the city council, as is a proposed $190,0000 settlement involving an EEOC complaint filed by firefighter Ellen Schmieder stemming from an incident in which former assistant fire chief Peki Prince groped her breasts in a bathroom during the fire department’s annual dinner on Jan. 28, 2012.

Schmieder claimed that Prince also made sexual comments to her during the incident, which left her too upset to report to work two days later.

It is expected that the settlements will be approved by the Peachtree City Council Thursday night, city officials have indicated.

Piers in her HR interview about the alleged incident said that after she managed to coax Eiswerth out of her hotel room, she called a male firefighter and told him: “Don’t ever leave any drunks in my room again. I had a hard time getting one out,” according to the notes from the HR interview.

“I thought he was going to rape me,” Piers said in the HR interview, adding that she had trusted Eiswerth in part because of their shared experience in being in the military.

In her complaint, Piers alleged that almost immediately after the firefighters returned to Peachtree City from the Florida conference, Eiswerth removed her from the department’s volunteer board, which she had served on since January 2011.

That action drew the suspicion of other female firefighters who inquired with Piers why she was removed from the position, she told HR director Ellece Brown.

Piers said her decision to come forward about the incident was in large part to protect younger female firefighters, since she is one of the oldest on staff.

According to notes from the interview, Piers said she didn’t want Eiswerth to be able to brush the incident under the carpet.

“He needs to know he crossed the line,” Piers said, according to the notes.

Brown asked Piers if anyone else from the fire department was involved and she replied, “No, You have already cleaned house. The best thing is to bring someone from the outside to be chief. He was a predator.”

Brown also noted that Piers specifically cited interim Fire Chief Joe O’Conor and Lt. Stephanie Furey as being “clean” and that at the time of the interview she was very pleased with the crew on the shift she was assigned to.

Piers joined the fire department in November 2010 as a full-time firefighter and Schmieder has been a full-time firefighter for the city since September 2005, according to their respective settlement agreements.

Eiswerth had served 22 years with the department prior to his resignation in December, first serving as a volunteer firefighter before moving on to the career side of the department.

As part of their proposed settlements, both Piers and Schmieder have agreed to withdraw their EEOC complaints against the city and not seek reemployment with the city in the future.

According to city emails related to the case, the settlements were reached after Piers and Schmeider took part in a mediation hearing with city representatives. Both settlement documents were signed Tuesday by each firefighter along with City Manager Jim Pennington.

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