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Published: Thursday, 4/12/2007

Toledo chief named Ohio fire marshal

Bell Bell
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Retiring Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell has been named Ohio s top fire investigator, training, and code enforcement officer.

Chief Bell, 52, yesterday was appointed state fire marshal by Gov. Ted Strickland s new director of commerce, Kimberly Zurz. He will replace Stephen K. Woltz, who left in January after a little more than three years on the job.

Chief Bell s last day as Toledo fire chief will be April 26. He will start his new job with the state four days later.

I m extremely excited, the 27-year fire department veteran said. That one there was a pretty good fit. I can do positive things for people in the state of Ohio.

Chief Bell was a finalist for fire chief in three cities. He wasn t selected in Washington or Fort Worth and he pulled his name as a finalist in San Antonio, citing personal issues he needed to take care of in Toledo.

The chief said he applied for the fire marshal position in January after notices went out seeking applicants. He was offered and accepted the job on Monday. He said he did not pull his name from the San Antonio spot because of the state opening.

Ms. Zurz said she liked everything about Chief Bell, who has served as Toledo s top firefighter for nearly 17 years.

He has the personality to communicate very well. He has the leadership abilities to bring people together. He s clearly visionary in what he wants to do. He has a very positive, outgoing personality, and his dedication to fire service is evidenced by his years in [the Toledo] community and the relationships he has built there, she said.

Based in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg, the state fire marshal part of Ohio s homeland security team since the 9/11 terrorist attacks assists local officials in fire investigations, runs the state s fire forensics lab, conducts firefighter training, and regulates training in the handling of fireworks and explosives.

The agency is the oldest of its kind in the nation.

Chief Bell will preside over an agency with an annual budget of $17 million and 150 employees scattered throughout the state. He will be paid $85,600, roughly what his predecessor made.

That figure is lower than the $91,500 he receives as fire chief. He said he will draw a pension from his old job while getting a salary from his new position.

Typically, he said, double-dipping is when a person returns to the same job he or she had. He s moving to another system, not returning to his old job.

I m moving on. It s no different than if working at Wal-Mart or doing anything else, he said.

In December, Chief Bell informed Mayor Carty Finkbeiner of his intention to retire. He most recently planned for his last day to be June 11 the day of the annual fire memorial service.

Although his retirement now will be effective this month, the chief said he plans to keep his engagements in Toledo, including the memorial service.

He plans to keep his Toledo home and have a second residence in the Columbus area, where his brother, Keith, and his family resides.

Will he run for mayor of Toledo some day?

I ll look at where we re at in 2 years, he said.

Ms. Zurz named Donald C. Cooper, assistant chief with the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department, to serve as chief deputy fire marshal.

The names of Chief Bell and Mr. Cooper made up half the list of four forwarded to Ms. Zurz by the Ohio State Fire Commission for the top job. The others were Kevin Watts, acting fire marshal, and Henry Kaufman, Jr., fire chief in the Columbus suburb of Grandview Heights.

Ms. Zurz, a former Democratic state senator from Uniontown, Ohio, interviewed the candidates. She said the change at the top in the fire marshal s office dovetails with the governor s Turnaround Ohio plan.

The fire marshal is involved in code enforcement, training, testing, and regulation, she said. Part of Turnaround Ohio is to take a good look at the regulatory process to be more efficient in our ways. The fire marshal will play a significant role.

Toledo Public Safety Chief Mike Navarre, whom Mr. Finkbeiner named to oversee the police and fire departments, said it will be good to have Chief Bell working in Ohio.

His responsibilities will include Toledo. It s almost like he s not leaving, which is good. I think it s a good thing for Toledo, Chief Navarre said.

Battalion Fire Chief Phil Cervantes who on Saturday resigned as president of the Toledo Fire Chiefs Association for personal reasons said the fire marshal job is a fit for Chief Bell.

Very few people are as dedicated to the fire services as Mike Bell was, he said. He ll go into it with 100 percent effort.

Battalion Fire Chief Jerry Abair, new president of the fire chiefs union, said he wasn t surprised Chief Bell took on another challenge.

I am surprised he took one on so quickly, Chief Abair said.

Contact Christina Hall at:chall@theblade.comor 419-724-6007.

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