Upper Arlington Fire Chief Mitch Ross, who joined the department in 1985 and became chief in 1998, has announced his pending retirement.

Upper Arlington Fire Chief Mitch Ross, who joined the department in 1985 and became chief in 1998, has announced his pending retirement.

His last day is expected to be at the end of February or the beginning of March, when he is scheduled to go dog sledding at the Boundary Waters.

"A group of guys I've traveled with for several years decided to do that," Ross said. "It's based out of Ely, Minnesota."

The city will begin the process of seeking a replacement for Ross next week, looking first within the ranks of the UAFD.

Ross, whose wife Cheryl is a teacher in the Buckeye Valley school district, has two grown children. He said he will continue to work both as a volunteer and as a paid consultant with professional emergency response associations, including the Ohio Fire Chiefs' Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Much of his consulting work has been in the area of mutual aid, the coordinated mutual response among jurisdictions to public emergencies, including such prosaic matters as giving useful names and call numbers to response units. Upper Arlington units, for example, are all prefixed with numbers in the 70s, while Grandview Heights units are prefixed with numerals in the 50s.

"It seems like such a small thing, but it really is key for us to know who you're talking to when you're in the middle of a response," said Dan Kochensparger, department spokesman.

Looking toward the department's future, Ross said he was pleased with the dedication of the new Reed Road fire station, replacing one that had been built 50 years before.

"A clear priority for Upper Arlington is maintaining a high level of service," Ross said. "We are a bedroom community and we talk about economic development and maintaining service, and the quality is a huge priority for us."

Part of what made the new fire station possible, including technological upgrades, was funding that became available as the practice of billing insurance companies for EMS runs became widespread, Ross said. He noted that Upper Arlington instituted the practice in 2004, which yielded funds necessary for planning and upgrading the station.

Ross said he doubted that similar billing would occur for routine fire runs any time soon.

"Obviously, it's one of those things that you look at (recovering costs through insurance), but it's never been thought of as more than an idea," Ross said. "Most places I know, across the country, I'd say are becoming less likely to do it. I don't know that the insurance business is out there to do it."

Among the profound events during the chief's tenure was the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The chief was part of a federal response unit at that time, with four others, most of whom were dispatched to New York City to help with rescue and recovery.

"To be able to be in a position to help respond to the immediate dangers was, in some small way for us, nevertheless a huge thing in my career," Ross said. He said since that time he has similarly responded to other disasters, including several hurricanes.

"It (Sept. 11) heightened our awareness of dangers other than routine house fires," he said. "It changed the way we look at things. Before then WMD's was something we might have been aware of in some sense, but now it's part of our regular vocabulary.

"It also opened up grant opportunities, as the government has recognized that the first responders are always going to be on site no matter how big the disaster is."

Ross spoke warmly about his career, noting that it was hard to explain in a few words.

"The fire service is difficult because it's one of those things, I hate to say 'out of sight, out of mind'," he said. "Until you need it, you don't think about it. But we have to maintain that readiness to respond at any time, and that can be hard to do."