Fighting back: Firefighter allegedly sexually harassed multiple women over several years

With the #MeToo Movement sparking changes in many industries, ABC57 News Anchor Brian Conybeare investigates allegations of sexual harassment from multiple female firefighters, paramedics, 9-1-1 dispatchers and EMTs at fire departments across St. Joseph County, Indiana.

The women’s stories all have one thing in common, they allegedly stem from one high-profile, and very well connected, local fire chief who recently resigned from his job amid a cloud of suspicion--because his accusers are now fighting back.

Penn Township Fire Department Battalion Chief Brian Kazmierzak is a nationally recognized expert on firefighting techniques and a certified instructor on how to keep first responders safe.

He’s even appeared on ABC57 News multiple times over the years to help educate the public.

This past January, he spoke with ABC57 about winter weather and accident scenes, “every single car that goes by is another danger to us.”

Ivy Tech Community College paramedic instructor Christine Peterson saw that interview on TV and reached out to ABC57News with stunning allegations of years-long sexual harassment and what she called an ongoing abuse of power.

“He’s a great instructor but he’s taken advantage of his position and his career to victimize dozens of women. He made it known that he was a chief and he would use his fire department vehicle to try to stalk you. It was very graphic. He would email, instant message or send naked photos of himself…wanting you to wear a school girl outfit, thigh highs, high heels," Peterson said.

It turns out Peterson isn’t the only one.

Over the past six weeks ABC57 News discovered more than a dozen women with similar allegations -- three of them brave enough to show their faces, another who asked to remain anonymous shared her story about the man known as Kaz.

“He found me on social media and Facebook and started stalking me. I had tons of explicit messages.”

That former firefighter says she deleted all her disturbing messages—but several other women shared theirs.

Texts confirmed to be sent from Chief Kazmierzak’s cell phone number on February 3, 2019 to a woman in local emergency services read in part:

“You are so sexy”
“So when was the last time you were a bad girl?”
“Any naughty pics?”
“Horny as could be and can’t get you out of my head now”
“I want you”

Another woman in the fire services got texts from the same phone number in 2017 reading:

“Cool I work at Penn”
“so do you like kinky?”

Former Centre Township Firefighter Julie Tekler says she too was harassed by the same man.

“I was gobsmacked, literally, that someone in his position would behave that way openly," Tekler said.

It was 15 years ago when she says Kazmierzak, then a Division Chief with the Clay Fire Territory in South Bend, did the same thing to her after seeing her at a joint fire training exercise.

“I’m here to stand up and say he’s a predator! He has violated multiple women, multiple times, in multiple ways and he needs to be stopped," Tekler said.

Chief Kazmeirzak even tweeted out a partially-clothed cold water challenge video asking members of his own department to participate in what's supposed to be a kind-hearted fundraiser.

In the video he is seen rubbing his bare chest and saying,  “I’m just getting all hot ‘n bothered by doing this….aahh that’s cold!”

Multiple sources confirm that cellphone video was actually shot inside the locker room at Penn Township Fire Headquarters that is owned and paid for by taxpayers.

"I live in Penn Township he may have been to my house for calls,” says Terri Young, Christine Peterson's mother.

Her late husband Reverend Irwin Young was a fire department chaplain in 2004 when Terri says she got a revolting proposition at a fire house Christmas party but did not know at the time it came from the same fire chief who allegedly harassed her daughter. 

"This guy, I had no idea who he was said ‘Would you like to do a threesome with your daughter?’ and I said ‘What?!’ I looked at him and I said ‘Are you sick?’ and just walked away," Terri said.

Even after that incident, Peterson still didn't tell her mother or file a complaint about what she says was happening to her.

"I felt like if I made him mad he would try to end my career. He knew enough people that he could get me blackballed," Peterson said.

Once ABC57 started digging into the women’s allegations and formally requesting personnel records from multiple fire departments it became clear this was an open secret and was documented as far back as 2011 when Kazmierzak was at Clay Fire Territory in South Bend.

Documents confirm Kazmierzak was demoted from Division Chief to Captain after a formal complaint of unwelcome messages from a female firefighter from another department.

Clay Fire Territory did not provide ABC57 with those 2011 documents as part of our public records request claiming they no longer keep them after six years.

But the documents do back the woman's story.

"DC Kazmierzak was confronted with this incident and admitted to the conversation and the unprofessional/inappropriate nature of this type of action."

Another document proves Kaz was given a four week unpaid suspension, demoted to the rank of captain and required to attend counseling or he would be fired.

He quit six months later and another Indiana fire department refused to hire him because of the allegations.

They are the ones who released the documents to ABC57 through an open records request.

However-- Kaz quickly found a new home at the Penn Township Fire Department in 2012.

"He took the demotion and walked away looking for another job and he got it and that's just disgusting that that was allowed to go on," Tekler said.

However, Battalion Chief Kazmierzak suddenly resigned from the Penn Township Fire Department at the beginning of March 2019. Sending a series of emails to the Chief John VanBruaene  and  Township Trustee Doris Portolese reading in part, "Effective immediately I am resigning from Penn Fire. Thanks for a great 7 years...I am sorry for the embarrassment and issues caused.”

We reached out to Chief Kazmierzak by phone, text, email and even knocked on his door at home but he has not responded to our numerous requests to discuss the allegations, or his sudden resignation.

So we went to Penn Fire Headquarters to ask Chief VanBruaene about it.

“Brian resigned Friday March 1st and is no longer with us," Chief VanBruaene said.

Pressed on whether he knew about the sexual harassment allegations he denied any knowledge.

“I have no idea about that, ok, I’m sorry,” Chief VanBruaene said.

That denial is directly contradicted by a February email from Penn Firefighters Union President Tim Pierson regarding Facebook rumors surrounding Kaz.

On Monday February 25th Chief VanBruaene personally responded, “The Trustee and I are well aware of this issue…we are addressing it. So far these posts are allegations with no validity.”

Then Penn Township Trustee Doris Portolese backtracked even further having their attorney send a statement this week, “Penn Township Fire Department Chief and Penn Township Trustee recently received anonymous allegations that…employee Brian Kazmierzak was sexually harassing women via Facebook posts regarding activity in 2013. When confronted with the allegations by the Fire Chief and Trustee, Mr. Kazmierzak first denied the allegations then resigned his employment.”

Tekler says she doesn’t think Penn Fire leaders took the women’s complaints seriously

"Reports were filed and reports never ended up in his file. That disgusts me," Tekler said.

She fears the same thing could still happen again if he gets a job with another department.

"That's what angers me the most is that he's still at it and nobody's holding him accountable," said Tekler.

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