Advertisement

Chief to retire after City Council approves incentive window

Mar. 23—Meadville Central Fire Department will soon be searching for a new leader.

Chief Pat Wiley is set to retire following City Council's approval this week of a retirement incentive that allows him to retire as fully pension-eligible despite not having met the usual requirements to do so.

Wiley's last day with the department, which he has served since September 2002, will be July 5.

The 46-year-old impending retiree said he looks forward to enjoying more time with his family. While he plans to continue working, he said he's not yet sure what he will be doing.

"I'll probably go in a different direction. It's been a good run in emergency services, but it's time for a change," Wiley said in a phone interview Thursday. "I've enjoyed my time working for the city and definitely helping out who we've been able to."

The incentive approved by council creates a retirement window of several months. Eligible firefighters must submit forms indicating their intention to take advantage of the window before June 1 and must retire before Aug. 1. To be eligible, they must have served with the department continuously for at least 20 years. Under normal circumstances, employees must have 20 years of service and must also be at least 50 years old to retire with full pension eligibility.

Wiley and Lt. Jim Aldridge, whose tenure with the department began April 2003, are the only fire department employees eligible for the window approved Tuesday. One senior firefighter will achieve 20 years of service in mid-August; another will do so in mid-November, according to city records.

City Manager Maryann Menanno told council that Aldridge, who had already satisfied the age and service requirements necessary to become fully pension-eligible, elected to retire prior to approval of the window. Aldridge will retire in April, according to Menanno.

Offering the incentive benefits taxpayers by reducing the city's defined benefit contribution expenses, according to Menanno. Although benefits for city firefighters hired after December 2017 include defined contribution plans, similar to 401(k) retirement plans, firefighters previously received traditional pensions known as defined benefit plans. Menanno said that long-term employees with traditional pensions incur a higher cost for the city and incentivizing them to retire earlier than they might otherwise have done helps to lower that cost.

A similar option offered to four eligible police department employees in June resulted in the retirement of Michael Tautin, who was chief of police when he retired. Similar retirement windows have been offered by the city in the past, including one for nonunion city employees in 2021 and one for members of AFSCME, the union that represents many municipal employees, in 2019.

The impending fire department openings create other benefits as well, according to Menanno.

"It's a reality that the fire department has grown," she said. "It allows the newer people to have different opportunities presented to them, so it's a place for continuation of growth and career development."

The departure of Wiley and Aldridge, however, will be felt, according to Deputy Chief Evan Kardosh.

"Obviously we congratulate them both," Kardosh said Friday, "but it's going to be a big loss for us, not just from the knowledge point and everything they've been able to give to the department, but they also are two leadership positions, including the top position."

Not seeing the familiar faces inside the Park Avenue firehouse is hard to imagine, he added.

"The hard part is not just that they are great employees and great firefighters, but they're phenomenal people and even better friends," Kardosh said. "It's definitely going to leave a hole for a lot of people."

Menanno said that the anticipated opening in the chief's position would likely be advertised beginning in mid-April. A selection committee will conduct interviews of candidates with the hope of hiring someone prior to Wiley's departure in order to ensure a smoother transition.

Despite having reached retirement age, both men still take an enthusiastic approach to the job, according to Kardosh, who described Aldridge's ability to "run circles" around even the youngest members of the staff. Wiley, Kardosh continued, "couldn't wait to get his gear on" during a response to a ventilation system fire Monday at the Parkside Commons apartments.

For Wiley, who has been involved in emergency services since he was a 16-year-old high school junior and employed with either an ambulance service or fire department since he was 18, the tradeoff is worth it. Particularly appealing, he said, is the possibility of a more flexible schedule.

"I explained to my daughter, it'll be kind of odd — if we just want to pick up and go to Erie to go shopping or go to dinner or something, there won't have to be a plan of seeing who's on call, what crews do I have, and things of that nature," Wiley said. "We'll be able to just be us."

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.