Lake Township fire and police department personnel Tuesday showed their support for fire chief Bruce Moritz - nearly filling all the seats in the meeting room of the township trustees and giving the chief a standing ovation after he responded to anonymous criticism of his management of the fire department.
During the trustees’ March 18 meeting, Randy Saint John, of East Freedom Drive, told the trustees eight firefighters conveyed their concerns to him via email. Saint John said he was speaking as a resident and taxpayer worried about his family’s safety. The firefighters, he said, feared repercussions if they took their concerns to command officers.
Moritz was attending a meeting of the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association and wasn’t present when Saint John read the allegations.
Moritz conceded Tuesday to being “loud” during a recent departmental meeting but denied screaming at firefighters in the room – an allegation raised in the email read by Saint John.
“I’m passionate about fire service,” Moritz said, adding he expected the discussion during the meeting to “stay in the room.”
He said a “loud minority” in the department “seems to like to stir the pot.”
Moritz also addressed a remark allegedly made by Genoa mayor Mark Williams at a recent fundraiser event sponsored by a Genoa booster group at the Millbury Fire Hall. The mayor allegedly told a township firefighter that Moritz “was your problem now.”
Moritz read a letter from Williams in which the mayor denied making the comment and even being at the fundraiser. Moritz was the chief of the Allen-Clay Joint Fire District, which covers the Village of Genoa, before being hired by Lake Township last year.
“We have great people in the department and I want to make it a great department,” Moritz said.
He asked the firefighters at the trustees meeting if he had their support and they responded with a resounding, “Yes sir.”
Issues facing the Lake Township department are similar to those facing volunteer fire departments across the country, he said. Personnel often have jobs outside the community and have to balance their family responsibilities and other demands on their time with the duties of the department.
It’s becoming harder, he said, “getting volunteers and having people available.” Still, he had three or four applications on his desk that looked promising, he added.
After the trustees’ meeting, many of the fire and police personnel filed by Moritz and shook his hand.
Mike Hornyak, deputy fire chief, researched an allegation by Saint John that Lake firefighters arrived at a garage fire in the Freedom Estates subdivision after a crew of the Northwood Fire Department arrived under a mutual assistance agreement. Hornyak said departmental records indicate the call came in at 3:52 a.m. and the first Lake Township crew arrived at 3:59 a.m. The Northwood department arrived at 4:06 a.m.
The blaze occurred on Nov. 24, 2012 and Moritz was the Allen-Clay chief at the time.
Hornyak and Moritz said the department members at the trustees’ meeting were there by their own choice and Hornyak estimated more than half of the department was present.
Police chief Mark Hummer said the 16 or so members of his department were also there by choice.
Hummer, who is also the township administrator, and the trustees repeated their support for Moritz.
Hummer said he was touched that the firefighters were there to support Moritz and praised the officers in his own department for also attending.
“My guys, unbeknownst to me, are here today. And I’m very touched,” he said.
Police Sergeant Jim Goodenough said he and his peers “came as one.”
Resident Arlyn Brinker said he was ashamed more residents weren’t present to voice their support.
“When we’re sleeping they’re out there,” he said of the first responders.