WELLSVILLE - As suddenly as it began three months ago, the extended vacation of village Fire Chief Bill Smith has come to an end.
At Tuesday evening's council meeting, Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh announced that the village had received a letter over the weekend from the Ohio Division of Emergency Medical Services. It stated that a long-awaited review board in Columbus had voted to accept Smith's recertification as a firefighter.
"He was reinstated by EMS. I have the paperwork showing where they granted him his reinstatement," Haugh said. The Review attempted to obtain a copy of the letter, but it was unavailable before press time.
According to Smith, the recertification is effective immediately. "They found in my favor, and they reinstated me. Same thing happened to Comparetto," Smith said, referring to Wellsville volunteer firefighter Mick Comparetto, who had also been sidelined as a firefighter since September.
Both men ran into trouble when attempting to recertify with the state through the the Ohio EMS Web site earlier in the year.
Following the council meeting, Smith was asked if this meant that he is now officially the acting fire chief. "I always was," he replied. "I was hired by the village as a fire chief. That's who I am, that's who I've always been." According to Smith, his lack of certification meant that he wasn't legally a firefighter, not that he ever relinquished his title as chief.
With Smith lacking certification, council passed legislation naming former Wellsville fire chief David Lloyd as part-time temporary fire chief at a Sept. 24 meeting. Smith says plans are being made among himself, Haugh and Lloyd to decide how leadership of the department will be returned to Smith, who pointed out that the ordinance approving Lloyd as acting chief is only valid through the end of December.
"We'll have a little discussion to see whether he stays until then or stays just for a little while," Smith said.
Despite being recertified, Smith says he plans to actively campaign to have responsibility for firefighter certification removed from the division of EMS and returned to the state fire marshal's office, which had been responsible for the process until the 1990s. He argues the current recertification process drags on for too long, and that with no firefighters on the EMS committee, members have little understanding of the administrative powers that they wield.
Smith says he has already spoken with state Senator Joseph Schiavoni and state Representative Nick Barborak (D-Lisbon) about his plans to push for the change.
"I'm going to fight this tooth and nail," Smith vowed.