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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2013

Jerusalem Township delays vote on status of beleaguered fire chief

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Harold Stanton’s position as Jerusalem Township fire chief remains in limbo after township trustees Tuesday delayed a decision whether to fire him for allegedly allowing a nonfirefighter to participate in emergency calls.

Mr. Stanton is on paid leave pending a hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. March 19. He was suspended earlier this month over allegations that he let township resident Jim Gray, who is not on the fire department, remain at the scene of four or five emergency situations.

At issue is whether Mr. Gray’s appearance posed a liability to the township. The trustees expressed concern over the potential danger to Mr. Gray and others involved in the emergency situation.

Trustees Joe Kiss, David Bench, and Ron Sheahan held a public hearing at the township hall Tuesday night that lasted almost three hours, and was standing room only for about 75 people.

Seven community members spoke during the hearing, including Township Fire Capt. Thomas Miller. Captain Miller said during his time serving under Mr. Stanton, the chief has always operated in a professional manner.

Three people who spoke on behalf of the township said they saw Mr. Gray at the scenes, using equipment and assisting firefighters.

Mr. Kiss said he heard from residents about the incidents involving Mr. Gray reporting to emergency scenes.

“Sometimes I have citizens tell me. ...” he said. “I was told that he’s been at scenes. ...”

The trustees met with Mr. Stanton twice about the situation specifically, citing dates in the fall of 2011 and the summer 2012, when the three trustees and the chief met in executive session to talk about the situation.

Mr. Kiss said that Mr. Stanton was fully aware of the situation and that he told the chief that it was a serious situation.

Mr. Gray is a former firefighter and EMT with the township, although he is not currently licensed for either position.

He applied in April, 2011, to work again for the Jerusalem Township Fire Department. Mr. Stanton presented the trustees with his application at that time.

“We just didn’t go forth with his application,” Mr. Kiss said.

The trustees didn’t say why they didn’t approve his application.

Mr. Stanton’s attorney, Kevin Greenfield, asked if Mr. Kiss and the other trustees had a conflict with Mr. Gray’s brother, Joe Gray, a former trustee. He accused the trustees of letting personal conflicts with Joe Gray mar their ability to treat the situation involving Jim Gray fairly.

Mr. Kiss admitted he did not have the best relationship with Joe Gray, although he did not get into specifics, other than to say they didn’t interact in the same social circles.

The chief said that he previously told Mr. Gray stay away from responding to emergency scenes, but that he cannot continually monitor who appears at the scenes.

“He didn’t like it, but he accepted it,” the chief said.

When Mr. Gray stood in front of the trustees and was asked why he kept appearing at emergency scenes, he replied that he was just helping his community.

“I was acting as a concerned citizen. I felt compelled as a citizen to help out my community,” he said. “I was helping.”

After the hearing, the trustees recessed to make a decision, but chose after a 30-minute discussion to hold off for a week to think about it, said township attorney John Borell.

Chief Stanton was in the news in July, 2010, when he took charge of the scene at an industrial roof collapse in Fremont in which a worker was killed and another trapped under debris for four hours.

The chief was in command as part of the Northwest Ohio Region 1 Collapse Search and Rescue Team, which was established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Contact Kelly McLendon at: kmclendon@theblade.com or 419-724-6522.



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