By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
Leading a fire department has always been a dream of Mark Pitzer’s, and that dream came true Thursday when the board of trustees announced its decision to hire Pitzer as the township’s new fire chief.
“Ever since I got involved in the fire service, I’ve always aspired to be a fire chief,” Pitzer said. “To achieve this is absolutely fantastic. ... We have fantastic firefighters and I could not be more excited to be a leader for the Boardman Fire Department.”
Born and raised in Canfield, Pitzer, 34, joined Canfield Fire Department as a part-time firefighter as soon as he graduated from Canfield High School in 1999. He trained there for several years while attending Youngstown State University and becoming a paramedic. In 2003, he was one of the first three full-time firefighters to be hired in the history of the department.
Pitzer joined Boardman’s department in 2003. He was furloughed in March 2008 as a result of financial difficulties in the department. After that, he took a hiatus from fire service and worked as a supervisor for Lane LifeTRANS, an emergency-medical-service company.
In 2010, Pitzer left the Valley for a job as a firefighter in Fairfax, Va.
It’s one of the top five fire departments in the country,” Pitzer said. “I received a lot of training, a lot of experience down there.”
Although he was receiving top-notch training, Pitzer was forced to live far from his two small sons while he worked in Fairfax.
“I was constantly traveling back and forth for a year-and-a-half of my life,” Pitzer recalled, explaining that he came home to see his kids whenever he had time off work.
In 2011, Pitzer was able to come home for good when the Boardman department received a grant, which allowed for the rehire of some of the laid-off firefighters.
Since then, Pitzer has dedicated himself to his education by taking classes for incident management, leadership and officer development and worked on his bachelor’s degree in fire administration. He also is a fire instructor for the state.
Pitzer, along with four other members of Boardman’s department, applied for the fire chief’s position when Chief George Brown announced his retirement in May.
Three candidates’ names were submitted to the township trustees for evaluation.
“We looked at a lot of things, from their education to their fire experience to how we felt they would be able to take an excellent fire department and take it to the next level,” said Trustee Tom Costello. “We were very comfortable with Mark’s answers, and we felt that he would be able to build a consensus within the fire department and help us grow to that next level.”
Pitzer, who will start as interim chief, effective immediately, and become acting chief July 28, said he has a few goals in mind for improving the department.
“We provide a tremendous service to the public, but we need to work on a few things. ... My goal is to start establishing some better relationships with the surrounding fire departments” such as Poland, Canfield, Austintown and Beaver Township, Pitzer said. He said he also will focus on training new firefighters.
Costello said Pitzer will be starting the job with several challenges to address.
One of those issues is the need for a new fire station, as the existing station on Boardman-Poland Road has been in need of upgrades that have yet to be undertaken due to financial constraints. Another issue is the strained relationship between the firefighters’ union and the township administration.
“We want everybody working together in the best interest of our community, and that will be one of Mark’s challenges, to help rebuild that relationship between the four elected officials and the unions,” Costello said.
Costello said the board has struggled in its dealings with the union, but added: “We hope Mark can help us re-establish those relationships.”
Pitzer will start the job tomorrow, with guidance from Brown.
“We think that’s very important for Mark and for Boardman Township,” Costello said. “We’re very pleased George has agreed to stay on during this transition period.”