An interim chief is being sought as the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District’s current chief remains on suspension and the assistant chief recently took a position elsewhere.
Current chief Bradley George has been on suspension since early July, first due to a pending investigation, then as a punitive measure after it was determined in a hearing that charges of gross negligence, malfeasance, and failure to show good behavior were true. After that he was suspended again due to another pending investigation.
Assistant Chief Chad Hamilton started a new position in Columbus this week.
At Tuesday’s Paint Creek fire board meeting the board gave Jon Salyer, human resources manager and public information officer, the go ahead to contact the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association in the district’s search for an interim chief.
Salyer said on Wednesday that through that avenue, retired officers could learn of the district’s search and those interested could make contact. The position is temporary.
In the meantime, Salyer will handle all the administrative duties of the district and the captains will handle the daily operational matters, he said.
On Tuesday, the board approved a temporary pay increase for Salyer to reflect his extra duties.
Salyer said at the board’s last meeting that attorney Brian Butcher with Clemans, Nelson & Associates, the law firm that represents the district, said the board does not have to appoint an acting chief, that Salyer could handle the administrative aspects, and the captains could handle the three shifts. But Salyer said at the time he thought it would be in the district’s best interest to appoint an acting chief rather than spread the leadership across four people.
As to the most-recent investigation into George, Salyer reported to the board that there was no new information.
He said he had been told by the investigator that the investigation was complete and that the matter has been turned over to a special prosecutor at the Ohio Attorney General’s office for review.
Salyer told board members it was his experience through his years as a law enforcement officer that the lack of news from the AG’s office was “normal.”
Andrew Esposito, also an attorney with Clemans, Nelson & Associates, said that no new information from the AG’s office was “not a slight” to the district or the board. “They’re busy,” he said.
Board president Dan Mathews asked Esposito what would happen if the board brought George back as chief with the matter still pending.
Esposito said there was nothing legally to prevent the board from doing that, but he wasn’t certain that it was “the best decision.”
“We can’t go on like this forever,” Mathews said. “This is costing this district a fortune.”
“I agree. You guys are in a bind,” Esposito said.
In other business, following a nearly two-hour executive session, board members voted to purchase 42 new air packs through a five-year financing plan. With financing charges, the final total cost to the district will be around $280,000.
The matter of the air packs has been consistently brought before the board for three months and has been a source of debate in recent meetings.
Jim Lyle, director of the Highland County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said that he had been asked by a couple board members to research the district’s needs insofar as the state of current air packs. Lyle provided a list of each air cylinder within the district that he compiled for board members which essentially showed that a large portion of the equipment is in need of replacement very soon.
As previously reported, Capt. Bill Strain told the board in a recent meeting that 32 of the district’s air packs are “basically obsolete,” and are too old to upgrade. Another 12, he said, are still upgradeable if parts can be found, which is not easy because of the age of the air packs.
Air cylinders have shelf lives and a majority of the district’s air cylinders are at the end of their’s. Also, new standards are being imposed that the current gear does not meet.
Lyle said he also talked to Warren Fire Equipment representative Fred Bussard, who previously demonstrated the Scott Air Packs for board members and also the company from which the board received a bid. That bid included the more than 40 complete air packs, plus an additional 42 cylinders at no extra cost. That deal would go away in the near future, Lyle said, and early next year prices are set to go up.
Air packs are standard firefighting equipment and protect a firefighter from the deadly atmosphere within a burning structure. An individual air pack includes the harness by which an air cylinder is held, an air cylinder, face mask, regulator, and various safety features that improve safety in a fire.
Lyle said he understood purchasing so many air packs was “a big expense.” But he said with the district’s current air packs, “we are three steps behind.”
In the end, board members unanimously agreed to purchase the equipment.
The Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District Board meets the second and third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the North Washington Street station in Greenfield. The meetings are open to the public.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.