Getting the fire service out of his system will take a while, said retiring Liberty Township Fire Chief John Bernans, but he plans to make up for lost time with his family.

Getting the fire service out of his system will take a while, said retiring Liberty Township Fire Chief John Bernans, but he plans to make up for lost time with his family.

Bernans has served as Liberty's fire chief for 20 years and will retire June 5.

"I plan to make up lost time with my family. We're planning vacations," Bernans said. "It will probably take me a long time to get the fire service out of my blood -- not listening to the radio; not having a pager with me."

Bernans was hired as Liberty's first full-time fire chief in 1989.

At the time, the township had about 4,000 residents. The fire department consisted of 19 part-time volunteer firefighters housed in a garage on Liberty Street. The previous chiefs also were part time.

"The trustees (in 1989) saw that the growth was coming -- saw the increase in roof tops with Sawmill Parkway being built and the Wedgewood Commerce Center and wanted to get a full-time department in place," he said.

Shortly after arriving as chief, Bernans hired eight full-time firefighters and oversaw the construction of the Liberty Road fire station. The part-time volunteer force still covered the night shift, he said.

Liberty's population has increased to 19,000, and the department has 51 full-time people, serving the township around the clock.

For several years, Bernans was both fire chief and township administrator.

Under Bernans' direction, the department became the first Delaware County township to have EMS services. He also started a fire prevention program, offering education to the community and local schools.

For more than 20 years, Bernans also has been involved with the Ohio Arson School, serving as a board member since 1990 and for the past 10 years serving as director. The weeklong, summer program teaches how to go through all aspects of a fire investigation, including putting together a court case.

Bernans said he will continue as director of the Ohio Arson School for the time being.

"I want to continue with the school which starts again the first week in August," Bernans said. "It will keep my interest in the fire service and keep me connected with fire chiefs and arson investigators. It might be a good diversion for me."

Bernans -- who was born in Latvia and moved to America with his family at the age of 8 -- said he inherited his strong work ethic from his immigrant parents.

"My Mom and Dad both learned the English language here, and they worked hard and instilled that if you want to buy food and clothes and feed your children, you have to work hard no matter what you do," he said.

Bernans said the fire department will be in good hands when assistant fire Chief Tim Jensen takes charge upon Bernans' retirement.

"He's been with us since 1990," Bernans said. "He's been promoted and worked hard. The men know him and the community knows him. ... "I'm certain things will even be better after I leave because there's a new thought -- he has his own vision."

What concerns Bernans is the economy and the possible effect it could have on future fire services to the community.

"The economic state of the country and world sooner or later is going to affect us," he said. "We are going to have to pass a renewal of our fire levy next year. ... It's always a big issue to have enough money to maintain the equipment, to make sure that we have the latest safety equipment such as self-contained breathing apparatus, and to have enough money to keep the men trained."