Deerfield Township has a new fire chief, but not everyone is happy about it, most notably the applicant he beat out for the position.
Deerfield Assistant Fire Chief Scott Simmons, who was preferred for the post by one of three township trustees, questions whether the new chief meets the minimum requirements set forth when the township advertised for applicants.
Trustees voted 2-1 in favor of hiring Scott Dean, a member of the Sebring Fire Department, as the new chief during a special meeting March 27. Trustees Chuck “Ed” Dean, who said he is not related to Scott Dean, and Mark Bann voted in favor of Scott Dean. Trustee Tiffany Havens voted against him.
Scott Dean was hired to replace interim Fire Chief Vaughn Sutcliffe, who is stepping aside after holding the position since Chief Brian Allison resigned about two years ago.
Seven candidates applied for the position, including Simmons.
Information the Record-Courier gathered from trustee meetings for this article came from videos posted on YouTube by Deerfield Township News, a volunteer group of residents working to provide transparency in township government.
At the April 10 trustees meeting, Simmons questioned whether Dean’s certification as a firefighter falls below what the township advertised as the minimum requirement.
In Ohio, there are three levels of firefighter certification. The most basic is Volunteer Firefighter, moving up to Firefighter I and then Firefighter II, the highest level. To meet the standards of a professional firefighter set by the National Fire Protection Association, an individual must be at least certified at Firefighter I.
In the ad unanimously approved by trustees Feb. 13 and posted on the fire department’s Facebook page the following day, the basic job requirements for fire chief include “Firefighter Level I” and “Emergency Medical Technician Basic.”
According to a state database of firefighter and emergency medical service certifications, Dean holds an active Paramedic certification, the highest EMS certification, but only a Volunteer Firefighter certification.
“He needs to be a Firefighter I per what you agreed and what you wrote down,” Simmons told the trustees, adding that Dean’s firefighter certification “is not what’s written down, it’s not what you put in the paper and it’s not what you put online.”
By comparison, Simmons holds an active Firefighter II certification, as well as active Paramedic, EMS Instructor, Fire Instructor and Fire Safety Inspector certifications, according to the database.
Simmons then requested the trustees rescind Dean’s appointment, but no motion was made to do so. Bann said it had been his understanding that the minimum requirement was the most basic state certification when he voted to approve the advertisement.
“Based on that, I will deny your request to rescind,” Bann told Simmons.
Video of the Feb. 13 meeting shows copies of the ad being passed out to the trustees before they voted, but does not include any discussion of the requirements.
New chief appointed
Before the vote to appoint Dean at the March 27 meeting, and right after the trustees interviewed Dean, Simmons and a third finalist in executive session, Havens made a motion to appoint Simmons chief. The motion died for lack of a second.
Havens said she was impressed by the quality of candidates for the position, but she had spent a lot of time at the fire department, including trainings, and thought highly of Simmons.
“I’ve observed him in his leadership role in the department, in his fundraising with grants and his planning events,” said Havens.
She also said she’d received recommendations for Simmons from people both within and outside the fire department and she was impressed by his training and certifications.
“He’s very qualified for the role,” Havens said.
Two weeks earlier at the trustees’ March 13 meeting, Fiscal Officer Kristy Richards read a letter, which she said was signed by “several” members of the fire department, that called Simmons an “amazing candidate.”
“Scott already holds the respect and trust within our department, something that anyone else is going to have to gain,” Richards read from the letter.
Trustees Dean and Bann said they agreed Simmons is qualified, but they’d developed concerns about him during his time as assistant chief. Neither, however, specified during trustee meetings what those concerns are. Bann said on both March 27 and April 10 that he would clarify his concerns privately to anyone who contacted him.
When challenged by an audience member during the April 10 meeting as to why he would not publicly disclose them, Bann responded he did not have to do that.
“I don’t want to embarrass anybody who applied for that job,” he said.
Dean and Bann said another factor that swayed them specifically in favor of Scott Dean is that he was the only candidate who has been a fire chief.
“He understands the role in a small community of the fire chief and everything,” said Dean at the March 27 meeting. “… He understands small budgets, which we have.”
Havens said that although she wanted Simmons as chief, she would support Dean.
“I will be on board. No hard feelings,” she said.
None of the trustees responded to a phone message left at the Deerfield Town Hall last week seeking additional comment.
New fire department head says he has 38 years of experience, including seven as a chief
“I appreciate what you’re saying and everything,” trustee Dean told Simmons before introducing Scott Dean, who spoke about his background.
“I have 38 years of fire training,” he said.
He is currently working as a volunteer paramedic/firefighter with the Sebring Fire Department. He retired from the Beloit Fire Department, which is volunteer, spending 22 years there, including the last seven as chief.
Dean said he is also a retired Alliance police officer, having graduated from the Salem Police Academy in 1994. He currently works about four hours a week, as needed, as a part-time detective with the Smith Township Police Department.
In addition, he owns and operates Dean’s Funeral Home in Sebring.
“I look forward to working with you guys,” Dean said.
Simmons told the Record-Courier that he was a firefighter with the Kent Fire Department for 26 years until his recent retirement from that department. He has been a member of the Deerfield Fire Department, which is a part-time department, for seven years and assistant chief for 18 months.
Simmons has also been a member of the Portage County Water Rescue Team since its inception in 2001 and the team’s commander since 2020.
Simmons has been responsible in Deerfield for applying for grants and during the last year, the department has received around $700,000 as a result of these efforts.
During a report he gave at the April 10 meeting, Simmons said the largest of these grants is a $500,000 federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, which provides funding efforts over the grant’s four-year life to recruit and retain firefighters.
The department has received several other grants totaling $180,000 to purchase equipment, including 13 new replacement air packs and individually fitted masks; a utility terrain vehicle to carry equipment into areas inaccessible to other fire department vehicles; and a hydraulic power pack and loader to lift cots bearing patients into ambulances, Simmons said.
This year, he has applied for a $300,000 grant to purchase a new ambulance.
Fire chief pick divides Deerfield community
The April 10 meeting was interrupted often by shouts from audience members, at least some of whom were township firefighters angry over the selection of Dean. There was some applause, however, from the audience when Dean finished speaking.
Both Bann and trustee Dean asked that people give the new fire chief a chance, saying a condition of his appointment is a one-year probationary period.
“We have a year to look at it,” Bann said March 27. “He understands that for any reason, if we don’t feel comfortable, we can vote to go in another direction.”
He added, “I looked at what was the best thing for our residents and what was the best thing for Deerfield, who fit in the best with our little township.”
Trustee Dean said April 10 that he had consulted with the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office about Dean’s appointment and it was determined to have been “a legal decision.” He said he was also told that anyone who questions it has unspecified options.
“There’s legal positions you can pursue if you feel the need to do that,” he told the audience.
Simmons made it clear he was not placated.
“I understand, Scott, that you’re upset you didn’t get the position,” Bann said. “You were passed over.”
“I don’t think you do,” Simmons responded.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.