Mike Stewart stepped down as chief of the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday, making way for his long-time friend and Assistant Chief Bob Mills to take over the position.
Stewart's letter of resignation was read during the regular Belmont Village Council meeting Tuesday.
"I had a recent change in my job which requires me to be out of town more," Stewart said. "I want to spend more time with my family and I just felt, at this point, it was time to move on. It's been an honor to serve the people of this community and the department as chief."
Photo by Art Limann
Mike Stewart puts his chief’s helmet on the shelf of the Belmont Volunteer Fire Department for the last time following his resignation as chief at the Belmont Village Council meeting Tuesday.
Stewart started as a firefighter with the St. Clairsville Volunteer Fire Department 26 years ago. He joined that department because his younger brother was a member.
"I've always had public service in my blood," he said.
He stayed with that department until it became the paid Cumberland Trail Fire Department. He changed jobs, moved to Belmont in 1994 and joined its the village fire department. He became chief in 1996.
Stewart has been serving as the park manager at Barkcamp State Park and recently was named as the district law enforcement supervisor for Ohio's East Central District parks.
In 2002, Stewart was named Firefighter of the Year by the Belmont County Firefighters Association following a fire that consumed the Doan Ford auto dealership between Belmont and Morristown in 2001. Stewart was in command of the fire scene. He noted that because the fire was in a joint jurisdiction, he was put in charge immediately because the Morristown chief was not present.
He also cited a fatal, small plane crash in Belmont last year as one of the more significant incidents the department has handled under his command.
"With that I had to work with the FAA and the (Ohio State) Highway Patrol," he said. "That was kind of interesting."
Stewart said the demands of daily life make it difficult for people to volunteer with local fire departments.
"It's been a struggle, through the years, trying to keep up with training standards," Stewart said. "The standards have been getting stricter, and that makes it harder to keep and recruit volunteers. It's a struggle with manpower."
Stewart said he will stay on as a member of the department, serving as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. He has been working with Mills for the past year, planning for the transition and helping Mills prepare for the job.
"It's honor for me to follow for Mike," Mills said. "I just hope I can do as good of a job as he did."