Reynoldsburg News

West Licking Joint Fire District acting chief retiring

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West Licking Joint Fire District Assistant Chief Ken Mathews, who has served as acting chief for almost two years, is retiring after 45 years of service in Pataskala.

"When I first got on with the (Pataskala volunteer fire) department, we were wearing rubber coats and three-quarter (high) boots," Mathews said.

Mathews, a Columbus native whose family moved to Pataskala when he was in the eighth grade, was working for the Ralston Purina plant in Pataskala in 1968 when someone at the volunteer fire department asked if he would volunteer as a firefighter.

"He said they were looking for some new people and I thought I would give it a try," Mathews remembered.

He later learned fire service was where he was meant to be.

"I love my job," he said. "It's a good job.

"It's one of those rewarding jobs because you're able to help people in the community and there's a certain amount of excitement and an adrenaline rush when you get these emergency situations."

Mathews was promoted to assistant fire chief while the department was still operated by all volunteers. By the 1980s, it had become more difficult to operate that way.

"Lives had changed and most of the people worked out of town," he said. "It became harder to get volunteers in the day time."

Mathews said the volunteer fire department contracted with surrounding villages and townships to provide fire service.

In 1982, the West Licking Joint Fire District was formed to serve Pata-skala, Kirkersville and portions of Reynoldsburg; and Etna, Harrison, Jersey and Lima townships, the district's website states.

Pataskala and Lima Township later merged, becoming one city.

The district continues to serve all those areas, and is governed by a board that includes one representative from each jurisdiction. Reynoldsburg's representative is Cornelius McGrady III.

Mathews said many things other than equipment have changed since he started working as a firefighter.

"The biggest change we have today is technology," he said.

"There's a lot more sophisticated technology, with computers, and there's more scientific research being done on how to put fires out and changing our tactics on the way we fight fires."

Mathews said home construction has changed as well, with newer homes being built with timbers that are not as thick.

"A building won't withstand a fire nearly as long," he said. "Older houses took a longer time to burn through."

Mathews said though he's not sure what he'll do when he retires, he decided he should retire before his 71st birthday May 26.

The West Licking Joint Fire District board accepted his resignation March 13. His last day will be May 23.

Mathews has been serving as acting chief since Chief David Fulmer was put on administrative leave after the fire board met in a closed-doors meeting May 23, 2012.

No public vote was taken at that time. Board members then met in an emergency session June 4 and voted 5-0 to place Fulmer on leave.

The board voted 4-1 Nov. 8, 2012, to terminate Fulmer's employment, citing misconduct in office and malfeasance related to personal information about former employees from another municipality he kept on his work computer.

Fulmer appealed the decision, saying his constitutional rights were violated, the board did not follow proper procedures in firing him and the board did not prove he had done anything wrong.

Judge Thomas Marcelain agreed, ruling April 18, 2013, in Licking County Common Pleas Court that the fire board fired Fulmer without proving him guilty of wrongdoing.

The fire board April 23, 2013, consulted with attorney Douglas Holthus in another closed-doors meeting before voting 4-1to appeal Marcelain's decision.

But the 5th District Court of Appeals Jan. 9 affirmed the ruling.

The board agreed Feb. 13 to reinstate Fulmer, but immediately put him on paid administrative leave, saying only that it needed to initiate and complete another investigation of Fulmer.

Steve Little, the fire district's administrator, said he expects to have a report about the latest investigation presented to the board at the April 10 board meeting.

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