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DeWitt FD to reconsider eliminating paid fire chief post

DeWitt fire commissioners are reconsidering what seemed like a decision set in stone just last month. At its Dec. 27 meeting, the fire commission disclosed plans to eliminate the position of a paid fire chief for a volunteer once seven-year incumbent Chief Gary MacLachlan retires in September. The conclusion seemingly came out of nowhere.

"As the existing incumbent, I guess I really have to plead, unfortunately, ignorant to what their process or lack of process was [leading up to that decision]," MacLachlan said, who happened to miss that one particular meeting. Neither he nor his firefighters were asked their opinions in the matter leading up to the decision.

Furthermore, at the same meeting, the board talked about hiring three new full time firefighters for 2008 for which funding also seems a mystery.

"One of the things we surmise is they were going to take the salary savings from not hiring a paid chief to help fund that, but that doesn't come anywhere near," MacLachlan said. "When all is said and done -- salary, benefits, outfitting and training a new employee -- it's about $80,000 a person so that's $240,000 that they need to find someplace."

Currently, MacLachlan makes $63,000 annually.

Commissioners Jim Conlon and Andy Worden approached MacLachlan soon after the board's decision with a change of heart. They came to him personally saying they thought they had made a mistake, MacLachlan said.

Newly elected commissioner Brian Schultz, however, has always been a proponent for a paid fire chief and was not part of the decision-making process in December. The time involved, he said, is the biggest factor in keeping a paid fire chief on board. He noted that MacLachlan works a minimum of 40 to 50 hours per week.

"Show me a volunteer who has that kind of time," he said.

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