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Firefighters, trustee differ over chief, training funds

Some members of the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Dept. have questioned the township trustee’s decision to retain their chief and funding for training following a ruling earlier this month by the trustee and his three-member advisory board.
The disagreement began following the fire department’s annual election of chief at its December meeting, when 15 of the department’s members voted, 10-5, to elect Jon Saulman to succeed veteran Tim Shewmaker as chief.
“I didn’t step up and accept this challenge (to run for chief) as a personal thing,” Saulman said, “but I wanted to do what was best for the group.”
Other firefighters who didn’t want to be identified said Shewmaker had indicated that he would gladly turn over the position of chief if someone else was interested in taking over.
But Cecil Trobaugh, who just began his second four-year term as Harrison Township Trustee, and the three advisory board members – Maurice Fisher, Lester Rhoads and Geneva Sams – overruled the vote, opting to retain Shewmaker as chief.
The fire department’s by-laws say, “the Fire Chief shall be elected in the future by a majority vote of the members in good standing of said Association, subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees of the Township … and shall continue in office so long as he shall prove satisfactory in said capacity to three-fourths (3/4) of the members in good standing of said Association … ”
“Basically, we didn’t see that Tim had done anything to vote him out,” Trobaugh said.
He said it would have taken 15 firefighters to vote Shewmaker out.
This wasn’t the first time a Harrison Township Trustee has disagreed with the firefighters’ choice for chief.
Roger Crosier, the previous trustee, and his advisory board disapproved of Gerald Saulman when he was elected chief by the majority of the firefighters at their December 1992 meeting. (Gerald Saulman is Jon’s father.)
Crosier notified the firefighters in a letter dated Jan. 4, 1993, that he and his advisory board wanted to keep the department’s chief, Ron Melton.
Instead of accepting the decision by the trustee and his board, the firefighters held another election, this time selecting Shewmaker.
Shewmaker’s election was approved, and he has been chief since that time.
Jon Saulman said this time the firefighters weren’t given the option to vote again. “They said, ‘This is the way it is,’ ” he said.
Shewmaker and Saulman met Jan. 11 with Trobaugh and the advisory board in an attempt to reach a compromise.
“I felt like maybe we did” resolve some things, Saulman said. “I’ve made a decision to seek some peaceful resolution with them.
“I feel strongly I’m somewhat in the right, but I don’t think it’s worth tearing the department apart over,” he said. “Some guys were threatening to quit.”
But some firefighters are concerned that Trobaugh does not intend to fund any more medical training for them.
“Over half the people on the department have medical training,” Saulman said, including some who are certified as paramedics, advanced emergency medical technicians, and first responders.
“I feel this is an area that fire departments have grown into and provide a great service to the public,” Saulman said. “It’s something we add to the community … We’re here to protect and serve the community.
“If we can save somebody by performing CPR or by stopping them from bleeding, that’s what we need to do,” he said.
Volunteer firefighter Randy Fessel agrees.
“If we’re going to be a full-functioning department, we need to be trained in all areas,” he said. “If that includes going on medical runs, we need to be trained in medical procedures. If it’s rope rescues, we need to be trained in rope rescues.”
Trobaugh said he isn’t opposed to training, but his budget is limited.
And if his plans to place six new firefighters on the department this year come to fruition, there won’t be any extra money for training. Instead, the $1,800 in the budget would provide about $300 per new firefighter.
“What (some firefighters) have in the back of their minds is they’d like to see an ambulance at the (Harrison Township) station and it be funded similar to” the arrangement with the Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept., Trobaugh said. “There’s no need for that” because of the fire station’s proximity to Harrison County Hospital in Corydon.
Trobaugh said there was a time when the trustee didn’t have a budget for training, but in recent years funds have been available to purchase turn-out gear for the firefighters, and a billing system has been put in place.
“The (advisory) board is for (the firefighters) 100 percent, but they picked the wrong time and the wrong way to go about this,” Trobaugh said.
Fessel offered a solution with regard to training.
“If the township trustee doesn’t provide training … we can always get the training on our own,” he said.