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Fire chief retires after 10 years

Search begins for replacement

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published March 8, 2019

 Mike Lopez recently retired from his position as fire chief for the Harrison Township Fire Department. The township is expecting to start its search for his  replacement this month.

Mike Lopez recently retired from his position as fire chief for the Harrison Township Fire Department. The township is expecting to start its search for his replacement this month.

Photo provided by the Harrison Township Fire Department website

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest anticipates that upcoming formal discussions with members of the firefighters union will mean they can finally begin their search for a new fire chief.

Meanwhile, Verkest will be handling administrative duties for the Fire Department.

“We’re in discussions with the firefighters (Local 1737) on the best way to choose the best fire chief, and we hope to have the position filled as soon as possible,” Verkest said. “In the meantime, I’m handling administrative duties and each of the battalion chiefs have taken on additional duties to keep things going.”

Lopez, 52, retired from his position in the community of about 25,000 people on Feb. 1 after 10 years as chief. He had accepted a 90-day extension of his 10-year contract, which expired in November 2018, while talks resumed about how to go about starting the search for his replacement. Lopez had accepted a position to lead Macomb Community College’s Police and Fire Academy, a job he commenced the week after leaving Harrison Township.

“Our loss is the college’s gain,” Verkest said. During its Feb. 11 regular meeting, the Harrison Township Board of Trustees passed a resolution honoring Lopez, who was on the Medical Advisory Committee for the Macomb County Medical Control Authority, chairperson of Macomb County Medical Control, served on the Mass Casualty Incident Committee, was a member of Macomb County Local Emergency Planning Committee, and worked as a member and past president of the Macomb County Fire Chiefs Association.

Lopez did not return a request seeking comment for this story by press time.

Verkest said promotion within the department makes sense, but may not be the best decision. The Harrison Township Fire Department is comprised of 24 line personnel and a fire inspector, including three battalion chiefs. The battalion chiefs would be next in line after the chief in terms of consideration for the position.

Specifically, there could be up to three applicants for the position from within the department.

“We would want more (applicants) than that,” Verkest said.

He said whoever is looking to become chief will be in charge of a $6 million budget.

Matt Sahr, president of Local 1737, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The base pay for the new fire chief, Verkest said, will depend on experience and what chiefs make in comparable communities. Lopez started at $85,000 and was making more than $90,000 when he left.

Public Services Director David Axtell thanked Lopez, who was not present during the February meeting, for his work within the township.

“I worked with him a lot and it was a pleasure,” he said. “(He was) always very helpful in any way, shape or form regarding the water department. The two departments go hand in hand — we supply the water and they use the water to fight fires.”