Boosting morale top of list for new chief in Ohio

Rossford Fire Chief Josh Drouard also is working on other issues

The Blade

ROSSFORD, Ohio — Rossford’s new fire chief says his first order of business is to repair his department’s morale, which was damaged by the ouster of his predecessor, James Verbosky, over sexually oriented text messages to a female firefighter.

City council last week unanimously approved Mayor Neil MacKinnon’s appointment of Josh Drouard, who had been the assistant chief under Mr. Verbosky. Council then approved the promotion of Ryan Stautzenbach to assistant chief.

Chief Verbosky’s forced retirement and the circumstances surrounding it attracted national attention and chagrined Rossford’s 31 volunteer firefighters, Mr. Drouard said. After a city investigation showed the messages were sent in January, Mr. Verbosky was told to resign, retire, or be fired.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to improve morale,” Chief Drouard said.

Mr. Drouard, 44, joined the Rossford department in 1987. Mayor MacKinnon described him as a dedicated firefighter who used to hang out at the firehouse as a young boy.

The mayor said Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn and Lake Township police Chief Mark Hummer, both of whom grew up in Rossford, gave Mr. Drouard “a high recommendation.”

“He also was council’s overwhelming choice,” the mayor added. Councilman Dan Wagner, council’s safety committee leader, said of Mr. Drouard, “I know his track record. He’s a good choice.”

The new chief will be paid $63,960 annually. He has tendered his resignation as a dispatcher for Lucas County EMS.

The fire department has two five-year levy renewals on the May 6 ballot — 1 mill and 0.6 mills — to cover the cost of firefighters’ pay and repairing and buying equipment. Council declined to place a proposed new 0.5-mill levy on the same ballot for fire protection, but may put the new tax before voters in November.

Chief Drouard said the department’s operating costs have gone up, but described its vehicle fleet “in pretty good shape. We’re very fortunate to have the support the citizens have given us.”

He said there was no urgency to seek an new fire levy in 2014.

Mr. Stautzenbach, 32, is hired for 20 hours a week as assistant chief at $18.50 an hour. He has been a Toledo firefighter for three years and was with the Ottawa Hills department before that.

Rossford’s firefighters are paid $13 to $16 per run. Three of its members are women. Of the sexually suggestive texting, Mr. Stautzenbach said, “that was something we never thought would happen — and it won’t happen again.”

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