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Published: Wednesday, 3/20/2013

Township votes out its fire chief

Trustees allege he let a resident assist on scene at emergencies

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Harold Stanton, left, former fire chief of Jerusalem Township, and his wife, Kathy Stanton, speak to retired firefighter Richard Wilson after Mr. Stanton was fired during a public hearing. Harold Stanton, left, former fire chief of Jerusalem Township, and his wife, Kathy Stanton, speak to retired firefighter Richard Wilson after Mr. Stanton was fired during a public hearing.
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Jerusalem Township trustees on Tuesday ousted their fire chief, whose position has been in peril for almost a month after allegations that he did nothing to stop a nonfirefighter from remaining at on-call emergency situations.

The three trustees, Joe Kiss, Ron Sheahan, and David Bench, voted unanimously to terminate Harold Stanton at a meeting Tuesday. The vote followed about 25 minutes of deliberation in executive session at a special meeting. About 45 people attended.

Mr. Stanton, who attended the meeting, deferred all comments to his attorney, Kevin Greenfield. Mr. Greenfield said he and his client plan to file an appeal in Lucas County Common Pleas Court today, calling the decision “erroneous.”

“They’re holding him to a standard of misconduct and misfeasance, when there’s absolutely no evidence,” he said.

Mr. Stanton, who has been chief since 2008, has been suspended from duties since March 5 for allegedly allowing resident Jim Gray, who is not on the fire department, to remain at the scene in four or five emergency situations. Some witnesses said they saw Mr. Gray using equipment at scenes.

Trustees said at issue was whether Mr. Gray’s involvement posed a liability to the township. The trustees have previously expressed concern over the potential danger to Mr. Gray and others involved in the emergency situation, and claimed they had told Mr. Stanton to rectify the situation several times.

A public hearing was held at the township hall last week but trustees said they wanted a week to think about a decision.

Many attendees stayed at the township hall after the meeting ended to discuss the decision.

Township resident Vern Meinke said he hoped the decision was made with full consideration of the needs of the community.

Trustees remained quiet about their decision.

“We’ve been advised not to comment. There’s no need for comment from us,” Mr. Kiss said.

But out in the main room, retired firefighter Richard Wilson amassed a crowd, as he held up a letter he intended to read at the meeting.

“I had prepared a little message for the trustees,” he said, as he unfolded a piece of paper. “... I’ve known two of the trustees for several years. ... I think they’re wrong.”

Mr. Wilson said he served with Mr. Stanton for four years and believed the former chief complied with requests to Mr. Gray not to go to emergency situations. Mr. Stanton previously claimed he had told Mr. Gray not to come to the scenes, but that once engrossed in an emergency situation, he focused on the job at hand and not who was there.

At last week’s hearing, some attendees accused the trustees of letting personal conflicts with Mr. Gray and his brother, Joe Gray, mar their ability to treat the situation fairly. At least one trustee, Mr. Kiss, admitted that he did not have a good relationship with Joe Gray.

Autumn Bodi, who has worked as a firefighter for only five months, is in the middle of instructional courses for both firefighting and EMT work and is not sure what will happen now.

“Chief was the one that started our fire class. We were learning from him,” Ms. Bodi said.

In addition to his duties as chief, he has also worked as a firefighter in Toledo since January, 2011, according to public records from the city. Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld, Toledo fire department spokesman, did not return calls for comment about the position Tuesday.

Firefighters said he has experience as an ice rescue technician, structural collapse technician, search and rescue team leader, public safety diver, and confined space rescue technician.

Mr. Wilson was also upset that the township fire department seems to consistently change leadership hands.

“Some of us may not like Larry, but he’s a professional,” he said. “He is a well-rounded firefighter.”

Robert Bonnough, also a firefighter, said Mr. Stanton’s commitment was evident by the long hours he worked, and Mr. Bonnough is confident an appeal will be successful.

“I think it’s just a process that we’re going to have to wait for an appeal,” he said. “We are definitely losing a huge asset. I expect him to be back shortly.”

Contact Kelly McLendon at kmclendon@theblade.com or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.



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