The Greenwood Fire Department is in search of a new leader after the mayor asked the former chief to step down.
Mayor Mark Myers met with James Sipes and asked him to step down as chief in May. Assistant Fire Chief Darin Hoggatt has been named interim chief.
Sipes, who was fire chief for seven years, agreed to the mayor’s request. Sipes will take over as captain at station 92 on Fry Road.
Myers asked Sipes to step down after meeting with other firefighters, Myers said. In day-to-day operations, there was a difference in opinion between Sipes and Myers, and Myers felt it was best to make a change, Myers said. Sipes was not asked to step down for disciplinary reasons, Myers said.
“James was a great chief. He didn’t do anything bad — it’s not a disciplinary issue. I had meetings with other firefighters, and I think now it was time for a change,” Myers said.
Myers declined to answer questions about what he discussed with other firefighters, which firefighters he spoke with and what specific issues led to his decision. He praised Sipes’ success with the department’s budget.
Prior to asking Sipes to step down, the two had not had any significant disagreements, Myers said. They routinely talked about fire department issues in meetings the mayor has with every manager about the daily operations of their department, Myers said.
Sipes was never forewarned or notified that if changes to day-to-day operations or the department weren’t made, he could be asked to step down, Myers said.
“(Myers) felt the need for a change, so I stepped aside,” Sipes said. “I’ll still work for a very great organization. We provide service second to none in the Midwest. I’ll continue to support Greenwood Fire Department and this community. It was an honor to be their chief.”
Myers and Deputy Mayor Terry McLaughlin took applications for chief from fire department staff and plan on making a decision in the coming weeks on a new chief to oversee the department’s staff of about 120 full-time and part-time firefighters, $5.3 million budget and four fire stations, Myers said. The position has a salary of $77,787 per year.
Myers notified city officials May 23 of the decision to have Sipes removed as fire chief, which came as a surprise to some city council members, they said.
“I was unaware of any issues; I thought James had been doing a good job,” city council president Mike Campbell said. “When I heard there were issues, it surprised me a little. I had not heard of anything that would be grounds for this.”
Sipes did a good job, and his ability to get federal funding for projects was one of his biggest strengths during his time as chief, Bruce Armstrong said.
Council member Linda Gibson had no reason to think Sipes wasn’t doing well in his job, she said.
Choosing to remove the fire chief is under the mayor’s jurisdiction, council member Ron Bates said.
The mayor appoints the department heads, such as fire and police chiefs. Sipes was appointed as fire chief in 2009 during former Mayor Charles Henderson’s final term. The fire merit board approves the hires of all other positions at the department.
“I thought James was an excellent fire chief; he should be proud of what he’s done,” council member Chuck Landon said. “He was an inspiration to his fellow firefighters, and I wish him the best. I think we have the best fire department in Indiana, and I’m confident there will be no problems maintaining that (standard).”