By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
STEVENSVILLE — After a three-hour special meeting Tuesday, Lincoln Township trustees selected the township’s first full-time fire chief.
Robert Tutko, who was most recently fire chief of the Homer Township Fire Protection District in Lockport, Ill., was voted the board’s first choice unanimously after a final discussion that involved public comment.
Douglas Bourgeois, a fire marshal at the Highland Township Fire Department, and Michael Mattix, captain/operations officer with the Dowagiac Fire Department, were the other two considered.
The three finalists met with trustees during an open meeting, which included three 20-minute vignettes where candidates answered five prepared questions, an hour-long meet-and-greet portion and a final discussion among trustees and attendees.
Tutko told trustees he would look into the fire department’s procedures to determine what direction they would go.
When asked about firefighter recruitment, Tutko told trustees he would also like to focus on retention.
“I look forward to working here as your fire chief,” Tutko said. “I don’t pretend to know all the answers, I’m very inclusive with decision making. … I think this would be a very beneficial and worthwhile partnership.”
At 19, Tutko began his firefighting career as a volunteer firefighter-EMT with Frankfort (Ill.) Fire Protection in 1979. He has served as a contract firefighter-paramedic, career firefighter paramedic and career fire lieutenant.
He has served the Downers Grove Fire Department as the Deputy Chief of Administrative Services, and the Oak Lawn Fire Department as Deputy Chief of Operations.
Tutko has a masters in public safety administration from Lewis University and is married with three grown children. He and his wife are homeowners and part-time residents of South Haven.
Supervisor Dick Stauffer said Tutko will be their next fire chief, assuming he passes the physical requirement and is able to establish a salary. The plan, Stauffer said, is to have Tutko start in January.
During the final discussion of the special meeting, all three candidates were asked to leave for the night as trustees deliberated openly.
Bourgeois was in consideration among a few trustees, but they changed their opinion in the interest of making the vote unanimous.
“He checks all the boxes this township is looking for,” Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter said. “He has a background in just about everything needed to run this fire department.”
A missing presence
Not among the three finalists was the township’s current part-time Fire Chief Ron Burkett.
Burkett was among the six semi-finalists, but was taken off the list after he turned in his resignation Nov. 25, effective Jan. 1.
The remaining five semi-finalists were interviewed Nov. 29 by a search team, community team and firefighter team.
A few firefighters have come out in support of Burkett, stating the part-time chief wasn’t treated fairly as trustees searched for the township’s first full-time chief.
Treasurer Terrie Smith responded to these claims during Tuesday’s special meeting and said the board had no underlying motive.
“We have nothing against Ron,” Smith said. “We took the process seriously and wanted to make it available to anyone who wanted to apply. We want what’s best for the fire department and the public.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 7, 2016)