NORTH WEBSTER – Surrounding fire departments were told to stand down this morning after being on alert for the North Webster Fire Department since Thursday.
That was when more than a dozen volunteer firefighters walked off the job in an apparent dispute with the township trustee.
A statement from the township updating the latest circumstances was expected to be released today.
Exactly how many emergency responders had not returned as of Monday was still unclear.
On Friday, township trustee Steve Ward said only about five still had not indicated they were back.
Ward on Friday suggested circumstances had improved after a meeting Thursday night, but tensions among some factions of the township leadership appeared to linger.
Meanwhile, Tippecanoe Township’s advisory board is looking into what led to the brief walkout last week as well as concerns voiced by Fire Chief Jeremy Likens about Ward.
The advisory board issued a statement saying the three board members are investigating the issues behind the crisis.
Based on recent statements, the dispute appears to boil down to allegations by Likens that Ward is over-stepping his role and “micromanaging” the fire department and EMS.
While the advisory board indicated in its statement that it’s looking into the matters, it also made it clear their powers are limited.
“The statutory duties of the board include approving the annual budget, serving as a board of finance and approving township contractual agreements. The township board does not directly possess the abilities to hire and fire personnel,” the statement said.
“Attempts are in the process to bring the fire department back to full strength. The safety of the residents of Tippecanoe Township is being treated with the utmost concern,” the statement said.
Likens, in a statement issued over the weekend, asked for two weeks of immediate vacation as the advisory board looks into the issue.
“We are a professional service, only wanting to provide a professional service, without the potential of being managed by those whom are not in the fire management service,” Liken said in a statement.
Likens said he thought issues had been smoothed over earlier in the week after officials met and discussed the problem.
One day later, Likens said the situation worsened, leading to Thursday’s walkout.
He added: “When I learned the very next evening the trustee had called four of our staff members into a special non-public closed meeting without informing myself or the division chief of EMS, it became apparent that his word from the previous night’s group meeting would not be honored,” Likens said in a statement.