Bennett promoted to fire chief
Tonganoxie has a new, full-time fire chief.
On Dec. 23, Tonganoxie City Council members approved Dave Bennett as chief.
He replaces Butch Rodgers, who was appointed in May as a part-time interim fire chief. Rodgers, who also is the city's public works director, earned $500 a month for his fire chief duties.
As a full-time fire chief, Bennett will earn $34,025 annually. That compares with the $26,124 Bennett earned as the department's deputy chief training officer, a full-time, hourly position.
"We have a salary designation of the chief despite it not being full-time in the past," City Administrator Shane Krull said.
Rodgers had taken over as chief in May, replacing Charlie Conrad, who had been the city's chief for 16 years. Conrad and the department had become ensnared in controversy.
About a year ago, some firefighters asked Conrad to resign, but he refused. A mediator worked to settle the department's troubles, but no agreements were made, and in May the city council approved Rodgers' appointment as chief.
Bennett and John Callaghan, who earns $23,000 annually, are the fire departments' two full-time employees. The rest of the department personnel work on a volunteer basis. Volunteer firefighters receive a small stipend for each fire they respond to, but most of them donate that money back to the department to be used to purchase equipment.
During the past several months, Bennett said, the department's members have worked to pull together.
"We're just kind of regrouping. We've gone through a lot of changes since May," Bennett said. "We're going to continue on those changes and try to be as progressive as we can and keep working on the goals everyone has set for the fire department."
Bennett has served the department for more than 15 years. Bennett has other titles, including associate field instructor for the University of Kansas fire service and certified emergency medical technician. A certified firefighter for national qualifications of professional firefighters, Bennett is one class shy of a fire science degree at the University of Kansas, where he hopes to earn his degree this spring.
Bennett said the department's goal is to be the best fire department in the state. To do that, he said firefighters have to provide strong customer service to their customers -- Tonganoxie taxpayers.
Other firefighters also have been offered new positions recently.
Interviews took place in early October and six positions were filled later that month. Brady Mikijanis and Callaghan are the department's captains, while James McCutchen, Mike Vinyard, Joe Peel and Jay Stauch are lieutenants. Pat Albert is the safety officer.
With the new appointments and what Bennett called good numbers of volunteers for the department, the new fire chief is encouraged by the situation.
"We're back up to almost 30 firefighters; we're almost at our limit," Bennett said. "With a mix of new people and experienced people that makes a good combination."