‘We fight fires now with codes’

Fire marshal and new deputy fire marshal position to be filled following retirement

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 4, 2015

 Incoming Fire Marshal Steve Henion, left, and retiring Fire Marshal Eddie Vojtush, right, stand in front of a fire engine at the Shelby Township Fire Department headquarters Feb. 25.

Incoming Fire Marshal Steve Henion, left, and retiring Fire Marshal Eddie Vojtush, right, stand in front of a fire engine at the Shelby Township Fire Department headquarters Feb. 25.

Photo by Sean Work

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Fire prevention is something most people probably don’t think about when they imagine the Shelby Township Fire Department. But the inspection division goes a long way in ensuring fire safety and fighting fires before they happen.

With longtime fire marshal Eddie Vojtush’s retirement Feb. 26, fire inspectors Steve Henion and Duane Staten will rise to the ranks of fire marshal and deputy fire marshal, respectively. Deputy fire marshal is a new position.

Vojtush started at the Shelby Township Fire Department on April 2, 1990, at the age of 32 as a firefighter after an unfulfilling career working with phones — he said he’d rather help somebody in their time of need than fix static on a phone.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a firefighter and I wanted to be a baseball player,” he said. “I got to play college baseball, but once that ended, I took a full-time job doing something completely different, although (firefighting) was always in the back of my mind.”

Over the span of his career, he said codes have become much more strict. There are now more materials in the home that burn hotter than just cotton, wool and wood, and more lightweight construction leads to easier roof collapses.

“We fight fires now with codes,” Vojtush said.

The township also almost doubled in size, adding many commercial facilities that require regular fire inspections and an elderly population that requires more medical runs, he said. Before, he said station No. 3 would occasionally close if it was understaffed, and station No. 4 wasn’t even open yet.

“Now, ambulances are basically rolling emergency rooms that provide drugs and doing anything they can do in an emergency room,” he said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, they were just applying oxygen, and even in the eight years I’ve been off the trucks, they do so much more than they did.”

The new deputy marshal position has been needed since it was abolished in 2005, Vojtush said. He said it would free up Henion to spend more time doing plan review, emergency management and working with the township’s Building Department to make sure buildings are up to code before they are occupied.

“We’ve found in training our new inspectors that it’s not just learning the code, but how to apply it,” Vojtush said. “We take them out and show them our way to get compliance because (business owners) don’t always want to hear us tell them they need to spend money on this.”

The inspection division will remain comprised of four people; now, there will be two inspectors instead of three, as well as the fire marshal and deputy fire marshal.

“I’ve loved my experience here. What a great community to work for, and I’m not just saying that,” Vojtush said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to work here in Shelby and for the residents here.”

Henion has been a fire inspector for 10 years; before that, he was a firefighter paramedic with the township for eight years.

“I’m looking forward to the new challenge of becoming a marshal,” Henion said. “There’s a lot more to the job, so I’m excited. More plan review, being able to actually work with the guys to implement different things — it’s a very encouraging time for me.”

He said Vojtush and the two fire marshals before him set him up for success — that he learned from a lot of good people and had the opportunity to go to school for plan review.

Vojtush said he would miss the people the most and likened the Fire Department’s sense of camaraderie to a sports team.

“Not being part of that team is what I’m going to miss the most, but I’m joining another team of retirees, so I’ll enjoy that part, too,” he said.

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