Prairie Township fire chief resigns amid report of unrest in department

HOLMESVILLE – Unrest in Prairie Township has led to the resignation of the fire chief and another departure from the service.

Township administrators are looking to a state fire association to find new leadership for the 15-member volunteer force after a citizens’ review board recommended changes ‘in the best interest of the community’ .

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Fire in Prairie Township Chief Reuben Miller resigned at Tuesday’s meeting of township administrators at the Holmesville Fire Department.

After learning of Miller’s departure, firefighter Ron Henry tendered his resignation.

Miller had been on paid administrative leave since June when administrators Paul Troyer and Stacey Shaw began proceedings to remove Miller from his position, which pays him $5,000 a year. Troyer is also a member of the fire department.

After a closed-door discussion on Tuesday, the directors reconvened and passed a resolution by unanimous vote of the three-member board, accepting Miller’s resignation and appointing Dusty Bunt interim chief.

An audience member asked at the end of the meeting if Troyer should have voted due to a potential conflict of interest. His question remained unanswered.

After the meeting, Troyer told the Daily Record that he “felt compelled to step in as an administrator and with the help of my credentials until things got better.”

Shaw announced after the vote: “We will be hiring the Ohio Association of Fire Chiefs do an assessment of this fire department to determine who would be our chief and deputy chief of this department. Until that’s done, that’s how we’re going to move forward here. We really need parties on both sides to work together to make this work. We are too small a community not to have a full house here.

“We believe bringing in the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association is the best decision to see what’s best for our fire department,” he continued. “Personally, I think it’s a good thing. I hope it’s a starting point to move forward. We have to move forward.”

Reuben Miller is still a firefighter in Millersburg

Miller was named Prairie Township Department Chief in March 2016. He is also a full-time firefighter with Holmes Fire District No. 1 in Millersburg, where he has worked for approximately 10 years.

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Miller was not immediately available after the meeting and attempts to reach him on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Miller’s attorney, Porter “Chip” Welch of Welch Legal Services in Galena, hopes his client’s resignation will allow all parties to move forward.

“It’s for the good of the community,” Welch said.

The citizens’ committee is investigating

Administrators asked a three-person committee of township residents to review allegations of misconduct against Miller made by other members of the fire department.

Over the past few months, the committee has questioned current and former members about the working atmosphere, interpersonal relations and any negligence in the tasks performed, and has written a report.

The committee found “no egregious details to fire Reuben Miller,” the report said.

“However, we believe it would be in the interest of the community for a new leader to be appointed and, if possible, from an outside source,” the report concludes.

The report included complaints that paperwork was not completed in a timely manner, maintenance of outdated equipment after fire and EMT team runs, poor team communication, missed meetings and failure to notify all volunteer firefighters when a combination lock in the building has been changed.

The report also cited a change in favorable attitude within the team since the chief’s leave in June and a reduction in friction within the team.

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Miller has an ‘outstanding reputation’ in Holmes County fire circles

“Reuben has an excellent reputation with other Holmes County firefighters outside of the (Prairie Township) department,” the report said. “He is credited with leading a professional department. Miller has received above-average reviews for his EMT abilities, including numerous endorsements for his work.”

However, the committee found that there are two distinct factions with opposing views on how things should be done.

“Some members do not engage in squad races if opposing members have responded,” according to the report. The call system allows members to see who is answering.

The report also revealed that the division within the fire service led to the departure of members and hampered the recruitment process.

Problems in the chain of command

Volunteers reported issues with the chain of command interfering with the running of the department, including interference from administrators.

“All other fire departments in Holmes County run their respective departments, not the township administrators,” the report noted.

An additional problem stems from staffing left to the fire department. The committee suggested removing control of the fund from the ministry.

The plan provides that the interest generated from the money pool will be used by the department, however, the funds are being used against the instructions of the donor, according to the committee report.

The ongoing division within the department is the main issue, and Miller bears some responsibility for the division as he is on one side of the division, according to the report.

“We have a division within the fire department, and we’re trying to bring that division together,” Shaw said. “It’s been a struggle. We’re such a small community, we need both groups to work together. It’s hard to get people to get along.”

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