MADISON TOWNSHIP — Township residents have seen three new trustees appointed in the last year. Now those three are going to appoint a new fire chief, after accepting the resignation of Chris Niswander at a special meeting Tuesday.
Niswander said in his letter of resignation that he is leaving March 15 to take a position in the private sector. He did not identify the company, but said it is related to firefighting.
Niswander has served the Madison Township Fire Department in various capacities since 1994. He became a full time firefighter in 2001 and has been chief since 2006.
Trustees chairman Dan Fletcher noted that during his tenure, Niswander was instrumental in passing a fire levy in 2006 that increased daily staffing levels to ensure resident and firefighter safety, and wrote several successful grant proposals to address equipment needs. He served the last four years as chairman of the Richland County 9-1-1 advisory board.
Fletcher also said Niswander gave up 20 percent of his salary to help with the budget during his first year as chief and has paid for fuel in the chief’s car for the last four-and-a-half years. He also worked with trustees and the township fiscal officer on a financial recovery plan designed to help Madison out of a state fiscal caution designation.
During the past year, a combination of the fiscal plan and township finances have resulted in cuts in Niswander’s pay and benefits, elimination of hours for part-time firefighters and the layoff of a deputy chief. In November, 64 percent of the department’s 14 full-time employees, represented by International Association of Firefighters Local 3417, approved a no confidence vote against the chief.
Niswander said the major budget and personnel cuts and the employee vote are part of the controversy that comes and goes with the job, and did not play a part in his decision to resign. “I did get a number of offers and I think this is the right move for me and the right move for my family,” he said. “You have to make choices sometimes, and that’s where we’re at.”
Niswander said other townships, government subdivisions and fire departments around the country are going through the same financial problems. He said that while it will take work and thinking “outside the box” for trustees to meet the budget challenges, he is confident they will be able to work together with a new chief as long as they stay focused and the lines of communication remain open.
Regarding discussions about the township possibly sharing services with the Mansfield Fire Department, Niswander said it was just suggested as part of the financial recovery plan. He said officials are simply looking to see if anything is feasible.
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