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Published: Wednesday, 5/20/2009

Clay Center fire chief researched history of village

CLAY CENTER - William L. Nissen, Sr., 67, who was a firefighter on and off the job, as fire safety boss for the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant and as chief of his village's volunteer department, died Saturday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township, of leukemia.

Mr. Nissen was a Toledo Edison employee for 27 years, retiring in 1997. He told The Blade in 1982 that he was one of the original licensed nuclear operators at the plant near Oak Harbor, Ohio.

He later became fire protection coordinator, responsible for both fire prevention and protection. As such, he managed the fire brigade and made sure that fire detection and suppression systems were always working.

He also had been fire safety coordinator for Edison's Bayshore and Acme power plants.

In 1981, he became chief of the Clay Center fire department, where he'd been a volunteer firefighter since 1966. He became a firefighter in 1963 at the Clay-Genoa department.

"He was always a leader," his son Lee said. "He felt comfortable doing the leadership role, especially in the fire department, because it was something he knew.

"Helping people and serving the community, no questions asked - that was the big thing."

Chief Bruce Moritz of the Allen-Clay Joint Fire District said: "He brought Clay Center a long ways.

"He wrote the standard operating guidelines. He made a good department out of them. He ran a tight ship."

Crashes and fire alarms might interrupt sleep or a weekend or a holiday.

"He got up and just did what he needed to do, be it an accident or a house fire," his son said. "Mom and the whole family were always very supportive of that."

When someone was seriously injured, he didn't recount what he'd witnessed.

"Sometimes he would come home and sit alone for a while," his son said. "He would come to peace with it in his mind."

He retired in 1999 as the last Clay Center chief.

He, Denny Hartman, who was Allen Township chief, and Bruce Moritz, Clay-Genoa chief, worked out a plan to merge their three fire forces, creating the Allen-Clay Joint Fire District.

Mr. Nissen became the fiscal officer of the new fire district, a post he held until 2007.

"He was very good at the administrative side of it," said Mr. Moritz, who became chief of the fire district.

Mr. Nissen was born in Genoa, but grew up "two houses down from the Jerusalem Township fire department," he told The Blade in 1982.

He was a graduate of Clay High School and worked for a time at what was then the Standard Oil refinery, now BP Husky Refining LLC in Oregon.

His community service took many forms. He coached women's softball in Clay Center and coached Little League. He maintained the baseball field at Genoa Area High School.

In the mid-1990s, he and his wife, Starla, spent hundreds of hours researching the history of Clay Center and collecting written reminiscences from former residents. The result was a volume produced in 1996 for the village's 125th anniversary.

"What we want to do is to capture what this town was all about years ago and what it still is all about today," he told The Blade in 1996.

Surviving are his wife, Starla, whom he married April 6, 1963, sons, Lee and Gary, brother, Jack, and seven grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Robinson-Walker Funeral Home, Genoa. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow in St. John's United Church of Christ, Genoa.

The family suggests tributes to the fire department or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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