Raisin Township fire chief stepping down
Raisin Township trustees held a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to accept a resignation from Fire Chief Richard (Rick) Renard and to approve a separation package that included benefits and pay through the end of May. Renard’s last day will be March 3 but he will take unused vacation and sick time to complete his service with the township. The resignation came on the heels of discussions about the township’s public safety structure for the future with Renard and Police Chief Scott Lambka offering proposals that included possible elimination of one of the chief’s positions.
For Renard, it was a question of the timing of those discussions and an offer to become senior operations manager at the GM Tech Center, working with Aramark’s Property Management Division out of Warren. Renard previously worked in the field but accepted a new career in public service as Raisin’s Deputy Fire Chief in 1999 under Chief Keith Richardson. That same year, Richardson retired and Renard became chief.
“This is a somber occasion for us,” said Raisin Township Supervisor Jay Cavanaugh at the meeting. “I can tell you this was not an easy decision for Rick and this was something he loved. I know he’s making this decision while also looking out for the township, firefighters and residents and he’s to be commended for that.”
“I’ve seen him do a lot of things besides fire chief and he’s done a good job,” said the board’s newest trustee, Tom Hawkins. “He’s very well received in the community and we really appreciate what he’s done.”
“I vote no on letting him go,” said Trustee Dale Mitchell.
The township’s management team was set to meet on Wednesday to discuss temporary leadership of the fire department while the board continues to explore structural options for public safety.
Following the meeting, Renard reflected on the 20-plus years he has been associated with the Raisin Charter Township Fire Department, since he actually became a paid-on-call firefighter in 1991 while still working full time in property management in the Detroit area.
Renard has seen some good times and some challenging times in his position. When Raisin Township was ready to add a law enforcement division, Renard was named Director of Public Safety to help launch the new venture around 2001. As the police department continued to grow and crime rates in the township were higher than expected, the Police Department was split off in 2005 and Lambka became chief. The fire department became its own entity once again.
“About that time, we started getting more active in fire prevention,” said Renard, who added that he enjoyed activities such as going into schools, having kids visit the fire station and conducting other educational sessions. The township also had its own dive team that Renard helped to coordinate for about seven years, but it became difficult to keep all its members active and trained.
During Renard’s tenure, the township tried for a bond issue to construct a public safety building, but voters nixed that decision. In his earlier days, the fire department was staffed by full-time firefighters and emergency medical responders, but now has 20 paid-on-call members. Like many fire and law enforcement departments, major changes have taken place due to revenue losses.
“We started to see losses in revenue sharing several years ago, and it’s been tough watching the programs we’d built have to become something less as funding went away,” Renard said. “I believe in what we do and service to the community and to the public is a priority.”
Renard has also been active in the larger community serving as Vice President of the Lenawee County Fire Chief’s Association for 10 years and becoming its president in 2012, and helping to craft the Mutual Aid Box Alert System being used in the county. He’s been involved with the Lenawee Emergency Planning Committee and other organizations that help set the pace for health and public safety issues.
“Everything that went on in this township, Rick was involved in it one way or another,” said Debra Brousseau, who is a township trustee and Parks and Recreation Director at Mitchell Park. She, among others, calls Renard the “go-to” person, and someone she will very much miss being able to talk to. “If you don’t know something or how to do it, Rick was always the one you could go to. If he didn’t know he’d point you in the right direction.” She said he could often be found assisting with everything from cutting up brush, working during dump day, plowing the cemetery and solving fire-safety issues.
Renard said problem-solving does sort of come second nature to him. Having worked with high-rises and the mechanicals involved in property management, he had a good background for trouble-shooting.
“It was part of my job with the private sector,” he said. “If you sit down and look at a lot of things in history, when a problem needs to be solved, who do they go to? The fire department. They help solve problems. I hope that continues to be the case here.”
Township Clerk Betty Holdridge said he was a “go-to” person, too. “I will just miss the fact that he won’t be there,” she said.
Renard said he also learned a lot through his years of working with the late Carl Wagner, first as his fire chief and later as township supervisor.
“We had a lot in common in our outlook,” he said, agreeing that “brothers from different mothers” made a good comparison of their operational styles.
Whether Renard and his wife, Lori, choose to move closer to Warren at some point or not, they continue to have ties to the community since their daughters and their families, including five grandchildren, live here.
Renard said although he did not expect to make a career change at this stage of life, he also never expected to become Raisin Township’s Fire Chief when he first joined the department as a firefighter in 1991. “You never know what life will bring,” he said. When asked if his decision to move on was motivated by the discussions in the township he said, “I think I’m at a point in time where I can say I’ve enjoyed doing this and would probably still be doing it 10 years from now if everything was financially great.” But he added that the timing of a new job opportunity also helped tip his hand and he could see the challenges ahead for the township whether it was a short or long-term situation. He’s definitely been vested in the community and finds it hard to talk about moving on. When pressed, however, he shared one of his hopes about his time in public service.
“I can only hope that I’ve left this place a little better off than when I came in,” he said.