Liberty Township Fire Chief John Bernans has been awarded the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association's (OFCA) Distinguished Service Award.

Liberty Township Fire Chief John Bernans has been awarded the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association's (OFCA) Distinguished Service Award.

"It means so much to me. I'm humbled," Bernans said in an interview. "The most important part is that my peers have given me this award."

Only 44 distinguished service awards have been handed out in the organization's almost 100-year history, Liberty Township administrator Dave Anderson said in an e-mail.

The award is not given out freely, said Farmersville Fire Chief Tom Wallace, who also serves as the association's president.

"It's a very prestigious award only given to people who have done very good things to benefit fire service overall for the state of Ohio, not just one department," Wallace said. "In John's case, he's put in many years of outstanding service -- building a fire department at Liberty Township, the fire arson school that he helped (develop) and he's been a mentor to many of the fire chiefs today."

In 1989, Bernans became the first full-time chief of the Liberty Township Fire Department, having served in the field since 1969.

He helped build the department from three full-time employees to 51, according to Bernans' biography from the OFCA.

In his time with the township, the area has grown from 4,300 residents to 19,000, Bernans said.

"Now we have two big (fire) buildings," Bernans said. "Tremendous growth -- but (the department's) been able to maintain with the growth and the people have support us 100 percent."

For more than 20 years, Bernans also has been involved with the Ohio Arson School, serving as a board member since 1990 and currently 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. It is designed as continuing education hours for firefighters.

In his 39 years as a firefighter, Bernans has seen changes in the field, particularly the realization that the firefighter's health and physical fitness are important.

"There's been a tremendous change," he said. "We used to stand on the outside of (moving) trucks, until safety for firefighters was legislated. Now we have better equipment, breathing apparatuses, minimum manning, education in fire and new construction methods.

"Overall safety at the fire house and fire site makes us do a better job for our people," he said.

Bernans is a member of many associations, including: the International Association of Arson Investigators; local, state and international fire chief associations; and the Building Officials Code Administrators. He serves as president of the Delaware County 911 PSAP and is the Delaware County Firefighters Liaison to the Delaware County LEPC.

He served six years in the Marine Corps and is a Vietnam veteran.

Bernans and his wife, Mary, live in Columbus. They have two children and three grandchildren.