Unruh named fire chief

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 17, 2016

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Farmington Hills Fire Department recently welcomed back former firefighter Jon Unruh, this time as fire chief.

During a Feb. 8 swearing-in ceremony at Fire Station 5, a little pomp and circumstance went a long way to make Unruh, 48, feel welcome as the city’s sixth fire chief.

“Certainly a ‘wow’ moment,” Unruh said during the packed event. “Thank you for your confidence. It is a very exciting time for me, both personally and professionally. It is not a coincidence that the city of Farmington Hills is ranked one of the safest cities not only in Michigan but across the country. It is due to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the Farmington Hills Police Department. … Glad to have the opportunity to work alongside (them) keeping the citizens of Farmington Hills safe.”

Former Fire Chief Corey Bartsch retired roughly a month ago after 28 years with the city. He moved on to work at a senior living facility, Fox Run in Novi.

Bartsch said after the event that while he wanted to take on another job opportunity, he felt it was also time to pass the torch.

“I felt it was time to allow somebody else to come in with a fresh look,” he said. “(Jon and I) both started as paid-on-call (firefighters) at Fire Station 4. He was actually my sergeant at the time.”

Bartsch said the “choice was very difficult.”

“I really enjoy the fire service. I really enjoy the people I worked with both within the Fire Department and City Hall,” he said, adding that the decision was one he struggled with and still struggles with, although he is very happy for Unruh.

Unruh began his career in the city in 1985 as a paid-on-call firefighter. In 1988, he also became a part-time public safety dispatcher for the Farmington Hills Police Department, according to a press release. In 1989, he worked with the Livonia Fire Department and became a fire captain and paramedic while keeping his position as a part-time dispatcher for Farmington Hills.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in public safety studies from Sienna Heights University in Adrian and a Master of Science degree in technology studies — homeland security/emergency management from Eastern Michigan University.

Deputy Fire Chief Lee Panoushek said the interview process began in December, which ultimately led to Unruh’s hiring and approval from City Council.

City Manager David Boyer said before the crowd that he interviewed about four or five candidates for the job, but Unruh was the best fit because of his experience and leadership.

“He has been working full time at the city of Livonia, (and) he has been working with us part time as a dispatch, so he has never really left the city,” Boyer said. “He promotes a team atmosphere; he is very positive and has been responsible for many of the larger projects the city of Livonia has taken on.”

From budget preparations to developing procedures and policies for nearly three decades, Unruh is the man for the job, Boyer said.

“For all these reasons and many more, we chose Jon Unruh as our new fire chief,” he said to an applauding crowd.

Unruh’s father, Gary Unruh, flew in from Tampa to attend the ceremony. 

“Jon is a community leader. Jon is a builder of staff, and Corey Bartsch has done a great job and he’s got some great shoes to fill,” Gary Unruh said. “Of course, I say this as a father — he could step into those shoes and make it even better.”

Unruh’s wife, Bonnie, is a 26-year veteran of the Farmington Hills Police Department and was recently promoted to lieutenant in the operations bureau, according to a press release. The couple has three children.

For more information, call the Farmington Hills Fire Department at (248) 871-2800.

Boyer did not respond by press time regarding Unruh’s contract information.

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