Shelby Township has appointed Fire Chief of Training Lt. James Swinkowski as the interim chief of the department.
Swinkowski was appointed to fill the vacancy of Fire Chief Gene Shepherd, who died May 14.
“I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach as to why I am coming here,” said Swinkowski. “The department is strong and the job will continue as Gene laid out for us. The troubling aspect is I am replacing a friend. That’s what the daunting task is -- doing the job he started.”
Swinkowski’s appointment went into effect Thursday, just moments after the Police and Fire Civil Service Commission approved Supervisor Rick Stathakis’ request to appoint the 21-year Shelby Township fire veteran.
For the next 90 days, Swinkowski will continue with his duties as chief of training and take on his new role as chief of the department.
“He is more than qualified to handle the duties of the chief,” said Stathakis, who noted in the meeting that Swinkowski was Shepherd’s “right hand man.”
Swinkowski had been attending Board of Trustees meeting in Shepherd’s absence and has collaborated with the chief in a number of current department projects.
“We’re at a critical point in many of these projects and we want these transactions to be very seamless,” said Stathakis.
Shelby Township Fire Marshall Edward Vojtush, the next in command, had been running the department since Shepherd died. However, since Vojtush was new to the role, Stathakis said it didn’t make sense to train him on the chief’s duties.
“Training someone to do this job would have been a duplication of duty because he (Swinkowski) would have trained the candidate,” said Stathakis.
Swinkowski, 45, has worked with Shelby Township for 21.5 years and moved up ranks from firefighters to paramedic, sergeant, lieutenant and now chief of training, which he took from Shepherd when he was promoted to chief of the department.
A permanent chief will be chosen from candidates ranking of an oral and written examination.
Swinkowski said he is eligible and plans on taking the tests.
“The Chief (Swinkowski) has done a great job communicating with the Board of Trustees and his leadership has played an important role in getting tasks done and we appreciate his efforts,” said Stathakis.