Rio Council, fire officers dispute on created position

By Dean Wright -

RIO GRANDE — Rio Village Council members and Rio Grande Volunteer Fire Department officers disagreed over the creation of a new position within the fire department Monday during the village’s regular meeting in the village municipal building.

With the passage of a village resolution in mid-December naming Tim Hemmerick the officer of operations in the Rio Grande Fire Department, senior officers of the department voiced concern that all officers of the fire department were not gathered to voice their opinion of the creation of the new position in a meeting. Village officials countered that they had addressed Rio Grande Fire Department Chief Robert Brandenberry and felt the information would be relayed through the chief.

“None of you people, with the exception of (village council member) Matt (Neal), has had the training that we had,” said Fire Department Captain Pat Canaday. “How can you make a decision on what (Hemmerick’s) duties are when you’ve never had the training? And, also, why did you not call the officers of the fire department and inform us what you were planning? Are we just there to be there and not have any control over an entity that we’ve had say over a bunch of years? And this is the first time in 50 plus years that the council and the mayor have went over the fire department’s head on making a decision?”

Canaday wanted to know what the department had done wrong and claimed there had been no accidents. He felt the council was leaving the officers out of the decision making process.

According to Rio Grande Mayor Matt Easter, seniority has determined officer membership in the fire department.

According to the resolution previously passed by the council, Hemmerick was promoted to the position of officer of operations and his duties would include, but not be limited to: directing and controlling volunteer firefighters in conjunction with the chief in the performance of firefighting operations within the Rio Grande Fire Department. Hemmerick would also help provide a training program in cooperation with appropriate governmental agencies and be responsible for reporting on firefighter training hours. Hemmerick was also appointed to oversee the maintenance of fire equipment and buildings and to submit and prepare a budget to the council annually regarding expenses and income of the department.

“Don’t say that you’re not leaving us out because you are,” said Canaday.

“We didn’t leave you out,” said Easter. “We went directly to your chief.”

“I would think that if the council was going to make a decision on anything, they would invite the officers of the fire department, people who have been on the department for 45 years or longer, to see what our opinion was,” said Canaday.

Easter said he did not see where the problem was and Canaday replied he had a problem with the decision because Hemmerick had at one point left the fire department for a short stint due to internal disagreements and the officers had not voted him back on.

“It was a decision made by the council and at the end of the day the council is boss of the fire department,” said Easter.

According to Easter, the Ohio Revised Code gave the village council the power to create a position in the department and to oversee the department’s budget, among other responsibilities.

“Firemen met with your chief about this and your chief was in agreement to everything we put in that (resolution),” said Easter.

Canaday asked Brandenberry if he agreed with the statement.

“I agreed to a certain form that was turned in. I don’t think it’s exactly what came out (in a previous Sunday Times-Sentinel edition),” Brandenberry said.

Canaday would go on to ask about previous concerns with the village in a manner the mayor and one council woman, Shelbie Willis, regarded as “confrontational.” Canaday complained that the fire department had been out to correct the sequential address problem in village for years and that credit was not being given where credit was due. He stated in no uncertain terms that he did not want the credit for himself.

“That was not an overnight process, Pat,” said Easter. “When it came down to asking people to help us do that, we only had a fistful step up and that was a nightmare situation trying to get everyone’s addresses figured out and we still don’t have all the signs out.”

Canaday said the mayor needed to respect the officers of the fire department and felt a decision was being “ramrodded.”

“I’m tired of seeing the mayor run the village of Rio Grande,” said Canaday to the council. “You people have the control.”

Easter replied he could do nothing without the permission of the council.

Village council members would vote to move their normal meetings to the second Tuesday of the month to meet at 5:30 p.m. to allow more fire officers and members to attend decisions.

After more disagreements, Canaday was asked to leave the meeting. Council, Easter, Canaday and a few other officers shared words before Canaday eventually left the meeting with a few firefighters remaining and other officers following.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342 or at the Gallipolis Daily Tribune Facebook page.

By Dean Wright