Fire Chief Steve Feustel retired June 6 after a nine-year career with the Prairie Township department.
PrairieTownship trustees recognized Feustel for his leadership at their May 29 meeting.
"He has done a great job in keeping the fire department organized," Trustee Steve Kennedy said. "Prairie Township has one of the finest fire departments in the area."
Feustel began his firefighting career in 1981 with the Grandview Heights Fire Department, where he spent 23 years and worked his way up through the ranks before leaving the department in 2004 as assistant fire chief.
A Westland High School graduate and a lifelong resident of Prairie Township, Feustel said he saw an opportunity to serve his community when the position of fire chief became available with the township department. He was hired by the township as chief April 1, 2004.
"Six months later, I faced the largest life-loss fire this township has ever experienced," he said. "Ten people died in an arson-related fire on Sept. 12, 2004. This began a redirection of my focus for our department."
Feustel said he pushed for more outside training so the department could be more in line with the latest firefighting techniques.
"I fought to add an additional part-timer and fought to improve our response cards so we could provide more resources quicker," he said.
One of the biggest challenges facing the department in the last few years has been financial, he said.
"The recession was tough," Feustel said. "We have had to run the fire station on a shoestring budget while attempting to upgrade the equipment and staying up with technology."
Despite the money issues, Feustel said he has sought to improve response times on fire and EMS runs and to improve the EMS service with more aggressive training and better diagnostic equipment. He has tried to provide a more diverse fire service through HazMat awareness and coordinated training with mutual aid companies, he said.
"I have spent considerable effort to empower my officers with specific assignments and responsibilities in an effort to prepare them for promotion," he said. "Overall, my goal has been to make sure that the future of Prairie Township would come from within our own ranks."
Feustel said he will miss his co-workers and he will miss serving the residents of the township.
"There are different personalities within each crew ... each with a different energy, attitude and personality," he said. "They are just like family. The residents, of course, are the heartbeat to what we do."
Feustel said he plans to spend more time with his family and become more involved with his church, First Baptist Church of Grove City. He recently returned from a volunteer trip to Haiti, where he will soon return to train people in CPR and first-aid, he said.
"There have been many accomplishments and some regrets," Feustel said. "I feel privileged to have been associated with the best firefighters and paramedics in the county over the past nine years. I am sure I will miss serving the citizens of Prairie Township as I step down from this position."