Fire chief decision a bad one

The situation in Liverpool Township concerning the volunteer fire department has us a bit baffled, to be honest.

Mike Bahen, the longtime fire chief, resigned the position following his election to the township board of trustees. He won a seat on the three-member board in November, and started his tenure with the new year.

In early December, it was reported that trustees Steve Betteridge, Keith Burke and Robert George (who was filling the seat left by the passing of Butch Kontnier) planned to interview the three individuals who submitted resumes for the chief’s position.

At that point, the idea, according to trustees, was to hire a new chief by its Dec. 23 meeting and have him in place by Jan. 1.

That didn’t happen. Instead, trustees seem to be dragging their feet.

It was decided that longtime volunteer firefighters Clifford Utt and Dave Ward would act as co-chiefs. Utt would head up the LaCroft station, while Ward would run the Dixonville station.

It’s to be a six-month probationary period with a decision made following that time as to which man would solely take over the duties.

It’s a bad decision.

Utt or Ward would fill the position quite well, we believe, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the position as “co-chiefs” as they are now. Many are upset with the lack of a decision, including the candidates, Bahen and other firefighters.

We don’t blame any of them. In fact, it seems trustees have turned an important township decision into a bad reality television competition.

The trustees lack of decision-making appears to be more of a cop out. They don’t appear willing to play the role of bad guy. It’s being termed a “trial period,” by the trustees, so a more informed choice can be established.

We believe perhaps the trustees are leaning toward the possibility that Utt or Ward decide to opt out of the “competition,” thus making the decision moot.

Last week, Burke and Betteridge continued their strong stance on the six-month trial period with Betteridge saying ” … We’re talking about saving lives and protecting the public, and the best thing we can do is take our time and make the right decision.”

It’s our belief that the best thing for township residents is to have ONE chief. The township should be ONE whole, not two separate halves being forced to act as one whole. But that is what’s happening.

There’s a good chance that the stations may become divided. We hope not. We do believe professionalism among the firefighters will win out. But the trustees would be to blame if any such thing takes place.

Bahen, we believe, shouldn’t get to stand off to the side and not receive any criticism.

He was chief of the township for 17 years, with both Utt and Ward under his command. We understand the brotherhood that is firefighting, and Bahen may not want to pick one over the other, but Bahen also has a responsibility to the residents he serves.

We believe Bahen established himself as a very respected chief among his peers, and he witnessed both Utt and Ward in action, therefore, his backing of either man should be respected by all those who don the uniform of a Liverpool Township firefighter – both candidates included.

We’re not sure of Bahen’s involvement in the interviewing process prior to his taking the trustee seat, but the fact that he’s now in position on the board means he needs to step up and offer his opinion on who should be chief.

Bahen has said he believes the trial period is a bad idea, but he needs to issue a statement on whom he believes should become the townships’ next chief.

Both Utt and Ward, we’re positive, will do what’s best for Liverpool Township and its residents. In fact, their actions, in the co-chief roles, we imagine, will make the decision a more difficult one when six months has passed.

The trustees wanted the time to judge these men before making a decision. Let’s hope they take advantage of that time and see Utt and Ward in action.