Lima fire chief discusses retirement with city

LIMA — Lima public safety will see some changes as the year moves on.

Lima Fire Chief Andy Heffner and Police Chief Angel Cortes are set to retire later this year, but they and the city are confident in their plans for continuity.

“The City of Lima, like many communities across the nation will be seeing an increase in safety service personnel retiring as many reach retirement age and are impacted by the State of Ohio’s Police and Fire Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP),” Mayor Sharetta Smith said in a statement. “This program was originally established by the state to retain safety service workers for additional years and provide an optional benefit that allows eligible police officers and firefighters to accumulate a lump sum of money for retirement. Recognizing the current and future need for safety services personnel, the City of Lima has been actively recruiting for both fire and police, including additional investments in wages to ensure the City remains competitive in the job market.”

Heffner said that because of this plan, he had known the exact date of his retirement when he took on the position of chief in May of 2020.

“I still enjoy the job and coming in to work with everyone is fantastic and keeps you young,” he said. “Because of those factors, I would love to continue as chief of the department, but we’ve come to this wall and I’m going to be leaving.”

But when Heffner chose to go into the DROP, which only allows for a maximum of eight years before retirement, the uncertainty of the future made it an easy decision.

“There were questions about what was going to happen in the years to come with my health because you just don’t know,” he said. “And now I regret it because I’d like to stay on because I love this job. I still enjoy getting up and coming to work with these fantastic people.”

The feeling is mutual around the city, with Heffner’s expected replacement, deputy chief Jack McDermitt saying the department has known for a few years about the retirement, but it has not been any easier.

“Chief Heffner is so passionate about the job and making sure that our employees are being taken care of,” he said. “He cares about this community because he grew up here. But as passionate as he is, he keeps things light because he likes to have fun, too.”

Even though Heffner is not looking forward to leaving, he said McDermitt, who earned the position by taking the fire chief test in May, is more than qualified thanks to strong efforts in succession training.

“One thing we’ve tried to do since I’ve been in this position is getting the people into the next position when it comes up and getting them trained,” he said. “So as soon as I walk out the door, you’re not going to see any bumps in the road or problems because Jack already knows this position and will pretty much move in here seamlessly. And we try to do that with all advancements to make sure everyone understands the job and is trained for it when they get that promotion.”

Both men agree that positive things like the new trucks, work with city administrators and continuing to increase staff and wages will continue, along with the possibility of a new fire station, despite the turnover.

“The people that I work with are fantastic,” Heffner said. “The things we built are just going to get better and they’re going to progress with the things that we’ve tried to establish since I’ve been here. And that is a blessing, to know that when you walk out the doors things are going to continue with very talented and capable people.”

While Heffner will not call it quits until October, Cortes will announce his retirement in late summer.

Although the city has decided on McDermitt, it said Cortes’ replacement has not yet been found.

The Lima News reached out to Cortes for comment.

Anyone with the second highest command rank in their departments is eligible to take the city’s civil service exam for promotion.

The city has held several meetings to address recruiting for both departments, approving increases to police wages, approving new experience requirements for officers and discussing changes to the charter to allow for outside hires at the position of chief as recently as Monday.