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Fire department struggles to fill chief’s position

THORNVILLE- The Thornville -Thorn Township Fire Department is facing challenges, but Thorn Township Trustee Chair Tim Phipps is confident there will be resolution.

“There’s been some turmoil,” he said. The department is working to fill its chief’s position and there are two distinct groups backing individual candidates, said the trustee, who added that the discussions are personnel issues taking place in executive session, meaning the details of the meetings are not public information.

Generally speaking, Phipps said the trustees asked the fire department to update its bylaws, which describe the qualifications necessary to become chief. Phipps is concerned the current bylaws contain so many restrictions and certifications as to who qualifies that it may be nearly impossible to hire from within the department or to find a reasonable candidate elsewhere. A new chief can earn the various certifications on the job, as long as he or she meets reasonable requirements when hired, he said.

Phipps prefers to hire a new chief from within the department, but the trustees are leaving their options open if a particularly good candidate is discovered outside of the department. The trustees plan to hire a new chief under the new bylaws.

“A leadership change is coming and everyone’s jockeying around,” said Phipps. There are people who have some questions and there are issues with filling some of the leadership spots, he said. “I don’t think there are issues that can’t be dealt with.”

Phipps expects many of the tensions within the department will be solved once a new chief is hired.

To quell rumors, Phipps said that during an executive session, fire department Captain Tom Dempsey received a reprimand, which Dempsey appealed. During another executive session, Phipps said Dempsey “burst in” and asked for an executive session to discuss his particular issues. Phipps said there was some shouting between he and Dempsey, but there is no truth to any rumors that there was a fistfight or that there was any physical altercation whatsoever.

Phipps said Dempsey was asked to resign and his appeal of the reprimand was denied. Dempsey declined to resign and was sent a letter of termination. “We didn’t have any other options,” said Phipps.

Otherwise, Phipps said the trustees asked acting Fire Chief Tim Cooperrider to form work groups among the members of the department to list all concerns within the department and to brainstorm solutions.

Some of the topics listed, said Phipps, include having respect for other members, leadership and communication issues, and reviewing equipment.

Former fire chief J.D. Postage resigned in March, but Phipps said he believes tensions within the fire department go back to disagreements over former fire chief Sean Corsi’s resignation, Oct. 2006.

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