Indiana Fire Chief Resigns, Faces Criminal Charges After Fight at Christmas Party

A northwestern Indiana community's fire chief has resigned and faces criminal charges after a fight at the department's Christmas party.

South Haven Fire Chief Doug Patton got into an argument with two firefighters who left the party Saturday night, Porter County sheriff's deputies said.

The two firefighters, who were on duty, returned to the fire station. About 20 minutes later, the firefighters returned to the party where, according to witnesses, an argument began between Patton and the two men, with Patton threatening their firing.

Patton resigned on Sunday. He was not immediately arrested, but said he would surrender to police after he speaks with an attorney.

"No one gets to cuss the chief," Patton said.

Patton, 53, was charged with a felony count of strangulation and misdemeanor count of battery, Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said. The felony charge carries a possible prison term of six months to three years.

A police report said Patton had been drinking alcohol and at first admitted choking one firefighter but later told deputies he only had grabbed the front of the firefighter's sweater.

Deputy Fire Chief John Kepshire said Patton was suspended immediately from the department in the area about 15 miles southeast of Gary.

The 27-year-old firefighter, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital after complaining of breathing troubles. He was treated and released.

Kepshire was appointed interim chief Monday by the department's executive board, which found no wrongdoing by the firefighter involved in the fight.

"The department is not going to stand for improper behavior," he said.