East Palestine whittles down list of fire chief candidates

EAST PALESTINE – With just over two weeks until fire Chief Brett Todd’s retirement, Village Manager Pete Monteleone is sorting through a final list of applicants before conducting second interviews.

Monteleone and members of the safety committee took over seven hours last week interviewing 12 of the 41 total applicants, and Monteleone will select four of those for second interviews.

The group originally planned to interview 13 people, but one man did not show up, said Alan Cohen, a member of Village Council’s safety committee.

According to the list of applicants, Matthew Carey did not show up. Those who were interviewed were Dennis Stock, David Lee, Brian Rutledge and Jon McElroy of East Palestine, Roman Swerdan, who is lieutenant for the Negley Fire Department, and William Opsitnik, Scott Rice, Josh Brown, Tim Paulus, William Ingold and Jeffrey Dawson, who are Ohio residents but do not live in East Palestine.

Applicants already members of the fire department are Lee, Rutledge and McElroy, and Stock is a full-time dispatcher for the police department.

The half-hour interviews began at 9 a.m. Wednesday with Monteleone, Cohen, committee member Ellen Beagle and two members of the fire department who were invited to participate.

“We had some experienced people there that knew questions to ask that non-firefighter members would not have thought to ask. I have a tremendous amount of confidence that we are going to get a really good fire chief,” Cohen said.

Cohen went into the interviews looking for someone “dynamic,” and who would be a good “front man” and recruiter for the fire department and its EMS crew.

“Everybody in the county is having a problem recruiting EMS,” he said.

Todd has been working on recruitment the last few years as well, and has attributed the decline to poor pay.

There are currently 25 firefighters and 14 EMTs on the department’s roster. Todd, who has served as chief for the last 12 years, 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.

First responders operate on 12-hour shifts with two-hours stand-by pay, meaning if there are no calls they receive pay for two hours only. If a call is received they are paid for time out on the call and do not receive stand-by pay.

In March first responders John Simon Jr. and Jon Rettig told council they would like to see an increase in stand-by time and that is is “difficult to give their time away” when the economy is weak.

Council did approve a 12.5 percent increase in pay for non-union employees during that meeting that affected first responders, although the raise was not in response to those concerns.

The fire department receives $78,000 a year through a 1.5-mill, five-year levy renewed by voters last year.

Cohen said the main focus for everyone involved in last week’s interview process was longevity.

“We are looking for longevity. That is one of the reasons we picked Dave Powers for law director, we don’t want to do this again two years from now,” he said. “I was looking for someone that I thought was committed to staying for the long term, making up his mind that he was going to be chief for the next 10 or 15 years.”

Cohen said he believes Monteleone already has some people in mind for second interviews, and Council Clerk Misti Martin said he should have a decision early next week.

“I was greatly impressed by the quality of the responses that we got and the people that we interviewed. I thought it was a really good process, it was a very positive process,” Cohen said.

Todd notified the village in late June he would be retiring on Sept. 14.