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Washington Fire Department needs a new fire chief

The Washington Fire Department is without a chief following the dismissal of Clint Kuhlman.
Steve Stein
The Washington Fire Department is without a chief following the dismissal of Clint Kuhlman.

The Washington Fire Department is without a fire chief.

Clint Kuhlman was fired last month by the not-for-profit fire department's board of directors.

Kuhlman was named fire chief by the board last year after retiring as a battalion chief and paramedic for the Peoria Fire Department.

In a letter to Washington Fire Department personnel, board members said the decision to terminate Kuhlman's employment was unanimous and difficult.

"This is not a decision that the board considered lightly," the letter reads. "However, after numerous discussions, we have decided continuing our relationship with Chief Kuhlman is not what is in the best interest of the Washington Fire Department.

"We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this transitional period. The board requests your continued exemplary dedication to the community. We will begin the process of searching for a replacement chief in the very near future.

"Please continue to follow your current chain of command, starting with Battalion Chief Tyler Gee."

The board did not respond to a request for information about a timeline for hiring a new fire chief, and Gee, a former Washington City Council member, could not be reached for comment.

The five-member board, which oversees the business and administrative sides of the fire department, is made up of two representatives from the city of Washington, and representatives from the fire department, Pleasant View Fire Protection District and Central Fire Prevention District.

The city's representatives are Greg Longfellow and Jeff Labuz.

The fire department representative is Brian Barron and the Central Fire Protection District representative is Steve Anglin.

A new representative is needed from the Pleasant View Fire Protection District following the resignation of Regina Slonneger, who was serving as board president when Kuhlman was let go. Longfellow is the new board president.

The city and the two fire protection districts provide funding for the fire department through taxpayer dollars.

Kuhlman served on the fire department board as a city representative in 2021 and 2022, and he was a Washington City Council candidate last year. He lost to Jamie Smith in Ward 2.

Kuhlman replaced Brett Brown as fire chief following Brown's retirement. Brown became the fire chief in 2020, replacing Roger Traver, who retired.

Traver followed Randy Hurd.

Hurd was the assistant fire chief under Mike Vaughn, the fire department's first full-time fire chief. Vaughn was hired in 2008 and resigned in 2014 after contentious negotiations with the board for a new contract broke down.

Vaughn received state and national awards for his actions during the 2013 tornado that devastated Washington.

The city and fire department will be entering into negotiations at an undetermined time for a new contract. The current 3 1/2-year contract between the city and fire department will expire April 30.

According to the contract, the city was required to pay the fire department $2.6 million for ambulance and emergency medical services and a portion of the fire chief's salary and benefits; $496,796 for fire protection and fire prevention services; and $410,927 for corporate/administrative services over the life of the contract.

Among other city obligations in the contract are paying for major maintenance and repairs and capital improvements at the fire station at 200 N. Wilmor Road, which is owned by the city, and leasing the station to the fire department for $1 annually.

The city agreed several years ago to reimburse the fire department $332,230 to help cover the cost of a new fire truck. The remaining $186,214 of the reimbursement was made over the first three years of the contract.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.