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Published: Monday, 12/30/2013

BEDFORD TOWNSHIP

Fire dept. ‘cleans up’ before new chief hired

Board narrows list to 6 top applicants

BY ALEXANDRA MESTER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE — Bedford Township is working to “clean up” its volunteer fire department’s policies and procedures in preparation for a new chief to be hired.

Fire Chief John Bofia retired April 1. Assistant Fire Chief Jim Neorr was named interim chief in May, but Joe Keane took over earlier this month.

Greg Stewart, township supervisor, said the board received applications from across the county and has narrowed the pool to six contenders. The board may hire someone as soon as the Jan. 7 meeting.

“We don’t want a fire chief that’s going to have to be a hatchet man,” Mr. Stewart said. “We want one that can provide a vision and move us into the next generation.”

The township has been working since August to overhaul what Mr. Stewart said is an outdated system.

“We’re trying to get away from that ‘good-old boy’ system,” he said. “We’re going through, department by department, trying to clean up things and initiate real policies and procedures. It’s kind of like cleaning house for the family coming over... . ”

For example, Township Treasurer Paul Francis said job descriptions and a mission statement are under consideration as is compensation for the firefighters. While the chief and fire inspector have a full-time salary and officers get a small stipend each year, the rest of the firefighters are paid $16 per run.

“For them sacrificing life and limb, that’s hardly anything,” Mr. Francis said. “In my view, that whole compensation package needs to be adjusted, and it hasn’t been adjusted in at least three years.”

Both Mr. Stewart and Mr. Francis noted that the process has upset some in the department.

“It’s not going to be a pretty process,” Mr. Stewart said. “When things have been done one way for a long time, a lot of people get upset when you try to clean things up.”

The township is planning to have a meeting with the entire department some time before the upcoming board meeting to help bridge the communication gap and allay worries.

When Todd Brunning, a firefighter who had been with the department for about 18 months, was let go at the Dec. 17 meeting at the recommendation of Mr. Keane, a few feathers were ruffled. Mr. Francis said no reason was given for the action, which was approved by a 5-2 vote, because the state has an at-will employment law.

Some of the preliminary recommendations for new policies and procedures could be discussed at the Jan. 7 board meeting. Mr. Francis said the new chief’s input will be sought to help provide a fresh opinion and new ideas.

“We didn’t want to wait until he gets here and drop the whole thing in his lap,” he said. “That wouldn’t be fair. We at least want to get the ball started. We owe it to the township.”

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.



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