LA CROFT - Following a lengthy executive session at their regular meeting Monday evening, Liverpool Township trustees voted to approve Clifford Utt as fire chief for the township. Utt will serve on a six-month probationary basis, effective immediately.
The vote ends the controversial, two-month period that saw a pair of fire chief candidates selected by trustees Steve Betteridge, Keith Burke and then-acting trustee Robert George last December as the best means of divining the preferred candidate for the job. The pair, Utt and Dave Ward, served as co-chief of the LaCroft and Dixonville fire stations, respectively.
Utt's selection was not unanimous, however, with trustee and former fire chief Mike Bahen voting against the measure. Afterward, Bahen said he simply favored Ward as the better candidate for the job. Initially, he and numerous members of the township fire department objected strenuously when the dual-chief scheme of selecting a sole fire chief was instituted in January.
Liverpool volunteer firefighter Clifford Utt (second from left) was selected as the new township fire chief at the trustees meeting on Monday evening. With Utt are trustees (from left) Steve Betteridge, Keith Burke and Mike Bahen. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
"This is probably the hardest decision we've made in the last 12 years of my career here," Betteridge said before moving to nominate Utt for the post. "It's very difficult to pick one person over another when it comes to a position that affects so many people."
At the time, Burke had said the two-chief trial period could last up to six months, but two months into the new year, Betteridge says he and Burke believed that they had observed enough to make an informed choice. "We thought it was time to make the decision to bring the two stations back under one control," Betteridge said.
He acknowledged that the two-chief policy had been unpopular with many township residents, as well as creating some friction between the Dixonville and La Croft fire stations. "There's been a little bit of hostility between one and the other," he said. "We want to bring the community back together again and get everybody working together."
Utt says he was surprised by the decision but expressed confidence that he can fill the role well. His ambition for the department is "making sure that everything is getting taken care of."
A firefighter with 33 years of experience, Utt says he understands the rift that the split caused between the Dixonville and La Croft stations, but says that over time, the firefighters will come together into a cohesive unit again.
"I hope there's no hard feelings and that things will start going smooth," he said.