BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Planning for disasters, inspecting buildings and leading 60 firefighters as they train and respond to fire and EMS calls are all part of the fire chief’s responsibilities.
Jason Francis, who was named Whitehouse’s new fire chief last week, is well-prepared after more than 20 years in fire and EMS service, and it’s a role he knows he’ll relish.
“Once I got into the fire service, I knew I wanted to be a chief someday,” Jason said. “It’s more leadership responsibility, and I like the planning aspects of it.”
During the April 18 Whitehouse Village Council meeting, Jason’s wife Lyndsey pinned the chief’s badge on his uniform as firefighters from Whitehouse, Waterville, Monclova Township and Providence Township applauded.
Josh Hartbarger, who was named the village’s chief operations officer earlier this month, recalled the advice that outgoing chief Daryl McNutt gave him when he took on the chief’s job in 2016.
“You’re going to do good,” Hartbarger said. “Just remember that everyone is here for you.”
Jason’s introduction to the fire service began in 1993, when his father, Terry, became a volunteer firefighter with Monclova Township.
“We moved from Maumee in 1992 and that next year my dad was at Loma Linda’s and met a guy who was a volunteer with Monclova. He talked my dad into joining,” Jason said, explaining that Terry was the first in the family to be a part of a fire department.
When Jason was 16, he signed up for the MTFD cadet program and, when he was 18, he began taking the fire and EMS courses needed to become certified. Jason dedicated 22 years as a part-time firefighter/EMT with the township, departing as captain of EMS in 2016 when he was named Whitehouse’s deputy chief.
During his early years in the fire service, Jason initially considered other career options. A 1997 Anthony Wayne graduate, he spent two years in Penta Career Center’s small-engine repair program and was working for Honda East. He intended to enroll in the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Fla., but was laid off when business slowed down. So, he joined the IBEW Local 8 and worked driving a truck, then laying wire in residential homes. He had just two years left to earn his journeyman’s card when the 2008 recession hit – bringing new home building to a standstill.
That was a sign to focus on the volunteer and part-time work that he loved the most: safety services. He spent 11 years working full time for ProMedica Air and Mobile while volunteering with Monclova and also Whitehouse, beginning in 2012.
In 2013, Jason was part-time with Whitehouse as well – working during the weekdays responding to emergencies, participating in daily fire and EMS training and performing maintenance on equipment.
In 2014, he was hired to a full-time position: on duty for 24 hours, followed by 48 hours off. With his promotion to deputy chief in 2016, Jason had additional duties: overseeing the daily operation of the fire department, performing fire inspections, responding to incidents, participating in fire and EMS training and networking with others.
While the public sees the response side of the fire/EMS service, a lot goes into planning and prevention, he explained. Jason reviews plans for new and existing buildings, keeps track of hydrant maintenance and inspects commercial buildings and foster homes.
As chief, Jason said he’ll relish spending more time on planning for larger scale emergencies, such as tornados, chemical spills, water contamination and other natural or man-made disasters.
Additionally, there will be daily and special training not just for Whitehouse but also the Waterville Fire Department, whose firefighters are part of the fire co-op that earned the department a statewide Ohio Fire Chiefs Association Award last year.
With the village’s new organizational structure, the deputy chief’s position will not be replaced. Instead, a platoon chief and lieutenant will be chosen for each of the three shifts: A, B and C, which cover 24 hours at a time. The department has 14 full-time and 27 part-time firefighters to cover these shifts as well as 19 volunteers who are paid per call.
In addition to his role as chief, Jason likes to take time off, when he can, to do fly-in fishing for pike and walleye in Canada. He’s also preparing to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary to Lyndsey on Wednesday, May 17.