Jerusalem Township Fire Chief Harold Stanton said he will vigorously defend himself at a hearing next week against charges that he allowed someone from outside the fire department to assist personnel on a fire call on February 23.
“I’m being blamed for something I didn’t do,” said Stanton, who has been part-time fire chief since 2008. “There’s a serious lack of evidence.”
Township trustees at a meeting on Tuesday, March 5, agreed to suspend Stanton for allegedly permitting an individual who is not a member of the fire department to actively participate on emergency calls.
“This action is potentially dangerous to the individual, significantly increases the township’s potential liability and violates Ohio law,” trustees stated in a letter to Stanton dated March 5.
The letter states that trustees had, on several occasions, discussed the matter with Stanton.
“The trustees have repeatedly instructed you not to permit individuals to assist the fire department during emergency situations unless they have been lawfully appointed Jerusalem Township firefighters,” states the letter. “You have failed to follow the instructions of the township trustees. Your conduct and failure to follow instructions constitutes misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and misconduct in the performance of your official duties as chief of the Jerusalem Township Fire Department.”
The final straw for trustees came on Feb. 23, when Stanton and township firefighters responded to a call of a house fire on Clubhouse Boulevard. Jim Gray, a former Jerusalem Township firefighter, showed up to assist firefighters at the scene, according to Stanton.
“I did not ask Gray to assist us,” said Stanton.
He believes his suspension may be politically motivated, since Gray is the brother of former Trustee Joe Gray, with whom Joe Kiss, a trustee, was often at odds when both served on the board.
“I have trouble with where this is coming from. I don’t understand the whole thing,” said Stanton.
He said trustees have told him before that individuals outside the department cannot assist in emergency calls.
“I never invited him to fire scenes,” Stanton said of Gray. “He just showed up.”
He said he had informed Gray in the past that trustees did not want him responding to calls. He said he thought the matter had been sufficiently addressed. But then Gray showed up at the house fire on Clubhouse Boulevard. Stanton said he did not see him.
“We had a house going, fully involved, and I had a crew making entry into the building,” recalls Stanton. “As usual, with a volunteer fire department, out here in the sticks, we don’t have any hydrants or a ready water supply. So I’m concerned about water movement, resources coming on the scene, people doing their jobs, and making sure everyone is safe. Somewhere along the way, apparently, Gray supposedly pulled some hose behind me somewhere between two engines. How in the world could I police that? I’m one person. I can only do so many things at one time. So I’m giving orders and watching the safety of my firefighters on the scene so nobody ends up dead. Now I’m served with these papers, with no previous conversation about this - nobody called me to ask `Hey, did this happen?’ So now it all revolves around this hearing.”
Stanton said he was disappointed that trustees held the March 5 meeting without notifying him of the pending charges.
“I heard about it by accident. I showed up at the meeting, and I was notified that I was being suspended pending the hearing,” said Stanton.
Kiss said Stanton’s suspension has nothing to do with his stormy relationship with former Trustee Joe Gray.
“This is all about people not following instructions and liability,” said Kiss. “The other trustees also support the suspension. I can’t do it on my own. I’m looking out for the interests of my firemen and my township. It’s not a personal thing.”
Lucas County assistant prosecutor John Borell, the township’s attorney, said the disciplinary process of township firefighters is governed by Ohio statute.
“All township firefighters that require discipline or termination are entitled to a hearing at the next regular township meeting,” he said.
Stanton may bring an attorney to the hearing, and also examine witnesses and answer charges against him, said Borell.
“Then trustees make a decision. If Stanton disagrees with the decision, he can appeal it to the court of common pleas,” said Borell.
Stanton said Gray is expected to show up at the hearing to support his claim he was unaware Gray was at the scene of the house fire. He said witnesses will also be there to back him up.
“I don’t expect a favorable outcome. I would like the citizens to be there to hear the story. I want this out in the open,” said Stanton. “I’ve made mistakes before. If I had done it, I’d own up to it. I’m a big boy. But I didn’t do anything wrong.”