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Published: Thursday, 6/9/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Toledo fire chief to retire as of July 1

Santiago to lead department while a successor is sought

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo fire chief Mike Wolever will retire as of July 1. Toledo fire chief Mike Wolever will retire as of July 1.
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After 33 years as one of Toledo's bravest and four years as fire chief, Mike Wolever will retire at the end of the month, Mayor Mike Bell announced Thursday.

"As fire chief and mayor, I have counted on Mike Wolever to be a leader in the fire department for 20 years," Mr. Bell said. "I appreciate his service and his dedication to Toledo Fire and Rescue and to the residents of the city and the region.

"The knowledge and experience he has contributed to the department have helped to make us one of the best in the nation."

The chief's last day will be July 1, 2011. Assistant Chief Luis Santiago will be acting chief until a permanent appointment is made, said Mayor Bell's spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei. Chief Santiago will be the department's first Hispanic leader.

Chief Wolever, a native Toledoan with two grown children, joined the fire department in 1978. Ten years later, he was promoted to battalion chief and became a deputy chief and assistant chief in 2002, working for Mr. Bell who was then the fire chief.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he headed local homeland security efforts and became involved in planning at the local, state, and federal levels. Chief Wolever is vice chairman for the Ohio Homeland Security Advisory Committee and has been chairman of the State of Ohio Medical Technical Advisory Committee, co-chairman of the city of Toledo Urban Area Security Initiative, and co-chairman of the Metropolitan Medical Response Team.

When then-Chief Bell retired in 2007, Chief Wolever was selected by then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to head up the fire department.

Chief Wolever's retirement had been expected to occur this year or early next year.

"Because of the pension plan I am in with the state police and fire pension, I can only work eight years in my current plan, and that eight years is up in February," he said. "I prefer to not retire in the dead of winter and I want to learn what it is like in the summer."

Toledo Fire Department deputy chief Luis Santiago will serve as acting chief until a replacement is found. Toledo Fire Department deputy chief Luis Santiago will serve as acting chief until a replacement is found.
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Chief Wolever said he would miss two things most.

"I suppose it is a tie between the people I work with and the people I work for, which is the public," he said. "The people I worked with throughout the 33 years have been amazing people."

During Chief Wolever's tenure, two major policy initiatives were accomplished. The long-term federal consent decree regarding recruiting practices issued in the Brown vs. Winkle case was dismissed. The department also merged fire and rescue services with the village of Ottawa Hills.

"I started doing things that changed things when I first came on the job," Chief Wolever said. "I started the first dive team and trained all the dive teams [and] I started teaching other technical rescues … and one of the big things was when I became chief was implementing education requirements for battalion chiefs be increased significantly."

Chief Wolever said one of the challenges for the department will be predicting retirements.

"The city administration and the fire administration have to do an excellent job of forecasting that so that they can maintain a staffing level that minimizes the overtime," he said. "In the past, mostly what was used as a reason for not hiring, was 'we cannot afford a class,' but that does not wash as a reason when you are paying overtime to replace those people."

Mayor Bell said he is confident in Chief Santiago's ability.

"He has proven himself to be a valuable leader among Toledo's firefighters and a strategic incident response commander," the mayor said. "I have no doubt that Toledo can continue to depend on a competent and professional fire department under his leadership."

Chief Santiago was hired by the city in 1984. His current pay is $99,528, which was expected to remain unchanged.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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