A new chief has taken the reins of the Prairie Township Fire Department.
Former assistant chief Robert Allen Scott officially was sworn in Oct. 23 as the township's next fire chief.
He spent the past three-plus years as assistant chief under Chris Snyder, who stepped down in early October after serving 35 years with the township. He chose to take over as chief of the Jefferson Township Fire Department in Madison County.
Trustees on Oct. 16 voted unanimously to appoint Scott as the Prairie Township department's next fire chief at an annual salary of $112,500.
"Chief Snyder kind of mentored him into the operations of Prairie Township so I don't foresee big changes," said trustee chairman Doug Stormont, whose father, Robert Stormont, served as fire chief for 11 years until 1991 and hired Snyder. "There is no doubt that Chief (Robert) Allen (Scott) has the ability and knowledge to run it."
Scott, 52, began his career as a volunteer firefighter in the southern Ohio town of Brilliant, in Jefferson County, in 1982.
"My whole family was volunteer firefighters. We have four generations of family members in that department," Scott said. "I started as a part-time firefighter in Pleasant Township in 1990 and worked part-time for 21 years. I also started full time with the city of Whitehall in 1994 and was there until I came to Prairie. That helped me learn a lot about township operations while working there."
A 2014 graduate of the Ohio Fire Executive Program, Scott said working with Snyder helped him understand the big picture.
"The two big things that Chief Snyder helped me with was the political side of the position and the financial aspect because in all of the positions I had, I didn't really have to deal with budgetary issues. In a township, we have 100% control of our budget, and we have to spend a lot of hours managing that budget. That's the biggest impact he left on this department ... his fiscal responsibility. He's mindful of the taxpayer dollars and how we spend it and the value he put into it and what we get out of it."
Among his immediate goals are to improve efficiency and oversee the purchase of major equipment, Scott said.
The department has a new fire truck on order and it's expected to be put into service next summer, he said.
Longer-range goals include pursuing federal and state grants to help offset costs and looking for ways to fund such items as Kevlar helmets and new body armor for those responding to violent situations, Scott said.
He also wants to focus on the mental and physical health of the department's firefighters, he said.
"(Nationally) cancer in the fire service is a tremendous issue for firefighters right now, as is suicide," Scott said. "Their health and well-being here in Prairie is a major priority for me."
Other nontraditional aspects of the township's fire service -- the annual fish fry in June, monthly produce markets and the summer reading program for children -- will continue, Scott said.
"Chief Snyder instilled the importance of community relations with our members and they carry that with them every day. And I think that's reciprocated from the community when you look at the last levy passage," Scott said. "This is, without a doubt, a lifelong dream; the fact that it's happening here in Prairie Township is exceptional.
"When I worked at Pleasant Township, I saw the department and knew what it was doing. I never imagined I would get the chance to be the chief here. I'm excited to see where we can take this department in the future. I'm still a little in shock. I walked in on my first official day as chief and thought 'Wow. This is mine now,' " he said.