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Swanton panel upholds bid to oust volunteer firefighter

SWANTON - After a six-hour hearing that lasted into the morning, Swanton Village Council's safety committee unanimously voted to uphold a recommendation to council to terminate a volunteer firefighter.

The case of Jason Tipton, 22, has become so controversial, at least eight firefighters threatened to resign if Mr. Tipton remained on the department and was not disciplined to their satisfaction.

Fire Chief Jim Guy had charged Mr. Tipton on Oct. 29 with offenses including threats, insubordination, and hampering emergency care. One of the incidents dates to January, but the charges were filed with council only after Chief Guy had tried to terminate Mr. Tipton in August for unauthorized use of a village vehicle.

Council voided the termination, saying only it can fire village employees. The safety committee's recommendation will be considered by council Jan. 13.

Mr. Tipton said after the hearing that he will fight the committee's decision. His next recourse is a hearing before the full six-member council.

The safety committee is made up Councilmen Richard Ueberroth, Scott Haselman, and Bill Belinger. Two of the other three council members, Jeff Pilliod and Pamela Moore, were among about 20 people in the audience throughout the hearing, which began Monday night and lasted until 2 a.m. yesterday. Council President Bob Gill left.

Complicating matters, Chief Guy faces his own hearing before council at 6 p.m. Dec. 17. He was suspended for 15 days this fall because of reports that he drove a village fire truck after drinking and intimately kissed an emergency medical technician whom he supervises at the Northwest Ohio Volunteer Firefighters Convention in North Baltimore in June.

His hearing was not held Dec. 3 as planned because the chief's attorney did not receive requested information from the village, Chief Guy said.

Mayor Tandy Grubbs has insisted that issues regarding Chief Guy and Mr. Tipton are separate, but they involve many of the same people.

Mr. Tipton's parents submitted written statements to the mayor regarding the chief's behavior at the convention.

Chief Guy testified during Mr. Tipton's hearing that Mr. Tipton told him: “I'm an embarrassment to the department, and he's going to make sure I lose my job.”

Chief Guy filed six charges against Mr. Tipton, and Mayor Grubbs concurred. The safety committee upheld two of the charges:

  • Threats Chief Guy said Mr. Tipton made to him Aug. 15 when the chief tried to fire him. Chief Guy said when the two men were in his office in the fire hall that night, Mr. Tipton wanted to go outside and fight. Firefighter Kevin Sulkil, who said he overheard much of the conversation from an adjoining office, backed up the chief's statements. Mr. Tipton said he wanted to go outside because he was warm and others could hear their conversation.

  • Inappropriate comments Shannon Middleton, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, said Mr. Tipton made to her. She said Mr. Tipton told her she shouldn't be allowed to ride on the fire truck and was not really a firefighter because she is a woman. Mr. Tipton said he and Ms. Middleton often joked, but he did not recall any serious conversations in that vein.

    The other charges were “not substantiated enough to use for termination,” Mr. Ueberroth said after the hearing.

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