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Ohio chief suspended over untested air bottles

Allowed firefighters to use bottles despite being aware that they were overdue for inspection

By Randy Ludlow
Columbus Dispatch

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Rather than retire or resign, Chillicothe’s fire chief will appeal his suspension for allegedly allowing firefighters to battle blazes while using air bottles that had not been regularly tested.

Mayor Jack Everson suspended Fire Chief Bruce Vaughan with pay on Thursday, giving him until yesterday to leave his job or appeal his suspension -- and potential firing -- to the city’s civil service commission.

Vaughan, 64, who has served with the fire department for nearly 39 years, including 16 as chief, notified the mayor that he will appeal his suspension, which was converted yesterday to an unpaid leave of absence. Vaughan declined to comment when reached at his home.

The fire chief was aware that firefighters’ air bottles were not regularly tested, with some up to two years overdue for inspections, yet did not correct the problem, Everson said.

“This is the last straw. It’s unacceptable,” the mayor said, noting that Vaughan has faced other reprimands. One came last year when the main fire station was found in violation of fire codes because its fire-detection and alarm system had been inoperable for more than a year.

“The fire department is not being effectively managed,” Everson said. “A firehouse without a fire alarm? You can’t make this stuff up.”

Dozens of air bottles that had expired because of a lack of testing have been inspected and returned to service, the mayor said. The leader of the Chillicothe firefighters union could not be reached for comment.

Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters and a lieutenant in the Cincinnati Fire Department, said air bottles must be tested regularly to prevent catastrophic failures that could hurt or kill their users.

While such incidents are rare, uninspected bottles of compressed air could rupture while being worn or stop working while firefighters are inside a smoke-filled building, Sanders said.

“That’s our lifeline,” he said.

Everson appointed Assistant Chillicothe Fire Chief Jeff Creed as interim chief.

Copyright 2012 Columbus Dispatch