SOUTH HAVEN — Ron Wise has been employed 31 years with South Haven Area Emergency Services and in charge of fire and rescue authority for the past dozen years, but now he’s eying retirement.
Wise gave notice to the SHAES Board of Directors earlier this week that he plans to retire at the end of September 2020.
“I gave my board a 13-month notice so they can find my replacement and I can train them before I leave,” Wise said.
SHAES provides fire and ambulance service to the city of South Haven and townships of Casco, Geneva and South Haven. Its coverage area consists of 95.3 square miles, populated by 12,250 year-round residents.
As SHAES’ director and fire chief, Wise oversees 16 full-time employees, plus 30 paid-on-call firefighters, a communication staff and seasonal beach safety interns.
The department operates from three stations, utilizing nearly 20 different types of vehicles, ranging from ambulances to a fire boat to a 93-foot ladder tower. The budget for the department hovers at $2.5 million. In 2018, SHAES responded to more than 2,000 calls for assistance.
Tom Renner, a former longtime firefighter with SHAES who now serves as publicist for the department, said Wise has played a key role over the years in maintaining a smooth operation.
“Ron’s open-door management style has created a very positive relationship with his employees,” Renner said. “This is a complicated work environment because the department consists of a full-time staff that belongs to a union and a complement of part-time employees who answer the call when an emergency occurs. The chain-of-command can be complicated if not properly managed.”
Renner went on to say that Wise also is very much a hands-on fire chief.
“He gets involved in actual firefighting when appropriate,” Renner said. “He has retained his certifications to be able to be part of the medical response team when needed. He’ll even drive a fire truck to a scene if the situation warrants.”
Earlier this summer, Wise was credited with playing a key role in saving the life of a swimmer who had become caught in high waves in Lake Michigan and had become exhausted. Wise jumped into the water with a rope and wrapped it around the man, who then was pulled to safety by two other firefighters who were on the South Pier.