TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse Rural Fire Department's new chief has taken on the task of melding five individual township fire stations into one seamless organization.
New Fire Chief Theo Weber, formerly the Traverse City Fire Department's senior captain, began the process by redefining the rural department's command structure.
The townships of Long Lake, Green Lake, Fife Lake, Whitewater and Paradise no longer have battalion chiefs at their stations; now they have captains. Over time, the reference to township names will be erased as Weber attempts to grow the public's recognition and understanding of Rural Fire, which also provides service to Union and Grant townships and parts of Mayfield Township, and Springfield Township in Kalkaska Township.
"For years, they have operated as separate little entities, township fire departments ... instead of one department, one name," Weber said. "Those are stations of Grand Traverse Rural. That has been the case since 1989, but it's not really operated that way."
Changing the chiefs' titles was more than symbolic, it was part of a new command structure that Weber said helped the department operationally during emergencies with shorter lines of authority and more direct communication.
The township supervisors who hired Weber from a list of 51 applicants have been fairly impressed since he took over Nov. 1, said Doug Mansfield, Union Township supervisor.
"We needed somebody who could take Rural Fire to the next level," Mansfield said. "Not only for the team concept and working together, but also the financial aspect, that we are not five different stations."
Weber, 55, grew up on Old Mission Peninsula, where his father was a volunteer firefighter and his grandfather helped found the Peninsula Township Fire Department. Weber spent five years as a volunteer firefighter in Frankfort, where he owned an auto parts store and tool distributorship before he joined the Traverse City Fire Department 18 years ago.