Palestine fire chief plans retirement

EAST PALESTINE – The village will have a new fire chief later this year now that Brett Todd has decided to retire.

Todd, who told village officials of the retirement last weekend, will remain chief until Sept. 14, when he will begin collecting on his pension through the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

Todd took over as chief 12 years ago, replacing Merle Stewart, who had just under 30 years with the department. He said he decided to retire because he felt it was time to relax. He does not plan on taking another job, although he does plan to be involved in the fire department in some ways every now and then.

“In all reality I’m at the point where I make almost as much with my pension as I do coming to work every day,” he said.

He was eligible to retire about three years ago, he added.

Todd makes $54,000 a year for the full-time position, the only salaried position on the department. The volunteer firefighters and officers are only paid for calls they take.

During his 12 years as chief Todd has seen firefighters come and go, mostly because of changes with the economy. Enlisting more volunteers has been something he and other officers have worked on over the last few years.

“There was a time when there was a lot of interest in it. The older guys will actually tell you when there was a waiting list of applicants. You put your application in and waited until an opening came in. That has definitely changed. I think you can go just about anyplace and you’ll find that volunteering just kind of fell off quite a bit over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.

He added other fire chiefs throughout the county could say the same.

“Getting good people and keeping them is really tough,” he said.

With East Palestine, the roster has remained about the same the last few years. It is currently at 25 firefighters and 14 EMTs.

Todd began his career in the safety service 35 years ago when he got a part-time job as a dispatcher in his hometown of Negley. At that time he was attending classes for mechanical engineering at Youngstown State University, and the dispatching helped pay the bills.

He later earned a full-time dispatching position before becoming chief in East Palestine.

Other changes he has seen over the years are improvements to the fleet of trucks, which were all replaced with the exception of one that was still in service 12 years ago.

“We upgraded the new equipment at the current standards,” he said.

Capt. John Jurjavcic, who has been with the department since 1988, said Todd’s work on keeping up to date with state requirements is one of the things that has been a help.

“I wish him well. He has done a lot of good for the department. He is a very intelligent man,” he said, adding, “He is the kind of chief that understands family. He understands family comes first. He doesn’t expect anybody to put the fire department before their family.”

Lt. Rick Gorby, who knew Todd when he was working dispatch in Negley, said he has done a good job as chief.

Todd’s advice for the next chief is to be alert at all times. He is on call 24 hours a day seven days a week.

“It’s a stick with it kind of job. You have to go at it and keep at it. It doesn’t end, there are no breaks,” he said.

Mayor Margo Zuch was the first person he notified of the retirement. Village Manager Pete Monteleone was told on Monday after he returned to work.

Zuch said she considers Todd a friend.

“I hate to see him retire. He has worked for the city many years. It is always sad to see somebody go that has been here,” she said.

The village will soon begin accepting applications for the new hire, and those will go through Monteleone. Village Council will have the final say.

The new chief will be the third department head replacement for the village in just under three years, beginning with former manager Gary Clark and former police chief Clyde Hoffmeister in 2012.

Monteleone was hired to replace Hoffmeister in 2012 and then filled Clark’s position later that year.