Gregory A. Paxton has two major plans when he retires: Buy property in the Caribbean and teach at the university level.

Gregory A. Paxton has two major plans when he retires: Buy property in the Caribbean and teach at the university level.

And he's counting down the days. On a calendar at the entrance of his office, the Columbus Division of Fire chief puts a big "X" on each day he has served until his official retirement April 10.

Paxton, who was appointed to replace Ned Pettus Jr. who retired three years ago, will exit the job in order to retain a more substantial portion of his retirement pension.

In the complex world of pension systems, if he stays past April 21, he would begin to lose money.

"I'm not really sure what that is, but it's a lot," Paxton said.

Paxton, 61, said he will bid a fond farewell to the fire department on which he has served for 34 years.

"In a job like this, there's always something else you want to get accomplished," he said. "Three years is a good start."

Four people had applied for his job as of the Feb. 20 deadline.

They are Assistant Chiefs Kent Searle, Kevin O'Connor and David Whiting, and Deputy Chief Richard Ballard.

A replacement is expected to be named by April 9, according to a time schedule released by the Department of Public Safety.

Paxton, who lives in Grandview Heights, said he thinks he's been a good chief overall, but has had some lingering doubts over the years.

"At times, I think I am," he said. "At times, I'm not too sure."

Retirement comes with its own brand of uncertainty, said Paxton, a graduate of Bishop Watterson High School.

"I think people who get to this position find it a bittersweet notion or are conflicted about it," he said.

Paxton said he finds it somewhat of a relief, yet said the job is "something you have grown accustomed to and will miss."

Although the chief serves at the pleasure of the mayor, the position is unlike a department director in that the hiring process goes through the Civil Service Commission.

The chief has a 12-month probationary term in his or her first five-year term.

Then, the chief can apply for a second five-year term for a maximum of 10 years in the position, per the city charter.

Pettus served 10 years, although that's pretty uncommon, Paxton said.

He said he sees no problem with placing a cap on the number of years a chief can stay on the job.

"I think it's long enough because you don't become chief until the twilight of your career," he said.

Paxton is the 23rd chief in the Division's 160-year history (Henry Heinmiller served on two non-consecutive occasions). Paxton, who makes $155,700 per year, manages 1,550 employees and a $218 million budget.

He currently is enrolled in a doctoral program at Ohio State University, where he also received his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Paxton said he expects to complete his studies in organizational behavior, through the Fisher College of Business, sometime next year.

It was former Columbus Safety Director Mitchell J. Brown who gave him some sage advice, Paxton said: "You can never truly understand what your supervisor does."

Paxton said he would like to see more of a fire department presence in places that are underserved.

Over the past 10 years, there's been a 40-percent increase in EMS demand, but no expansion of resources in that area, Paxton said.

New fire stations have been proposed for the East Side on Waggoner Road near Broad Street; the Far Northeast Side near Westerville; the Northwest Side off Hayden Run Road; and on the South Side near Rickenbacker International Airport, he said.