Buck Creek fire chief steps down


BUCK CREEK TOWNSHIP — A public safety veteran who spent over half of his 46-year career with the Buck Creek Township Fire Department as chief has stepped down.

David Sutherlin led the department through its transition from a rural firefighting force to one responsible for millions of square feet of new industrial buildings in western Hancock County. His departure leaves a leadership void that’s being filled by existing staff until a new township trustee starts next year. Those who worked with the former chief say he leaves big boots to fill.

Jack Negley, Buck Creek Township trustee, said Sutherlin resigned on May 27.

“He left to pursue other interests,” Negley said.

Attempts to reach Sutherlin for comment were not successful.

Negley said he was surprised to learn of Sutherlin’s decision.

“He’ll be sorely missed,” Negley said. “From my standpoint, Dave is an icon in the county and is looked upon as a true leader.”

Negley said he won’t name a new chief, adding he feels it wouldn’t be fair to his successor in January. Negley lost his re-election bid in last month’s Republican primary to Micki Simunek.

Rudy Nylund, the fire department’s assistant chief, will work with battalion chiefs to fulfill leadership duties for the rest of the year.

Sutherlin started with the department in 1976. Nylund joined in 1987. The department was considered a rural one then, Nylund recalled, responding to about 400 calls a year.

The run total for 2021 was about 2,000.

Sutherlin hired Nylund in 2002 to help with a newly created paramedic program as Buck Creek Township continued gaining population. Nylund noted that Sutherlin was chief for nearly every hire, part-time and volunteer currently serving the township’s fire department.

He recalled Sutherlin became chief in 1989 and served for a year before having to give up the role due to his full-time job in grain sales services. Sutherlin became chief again in 1997 and remained in the position through last week.

“Chief Sutherlin not only had a deep passion for the fire department, he also maintained a passion for the community and neighboring fire departments,” Nylund told the Daily Reporter in an email. “He always had a door open for any member to talk to him.”

He credited Sutherlin with guiding the department from the rural one it was to one now in a growing commercial area. Dozens of warehouses, many of which spanning hundreds of thousands of square feet — and some in the millions — have been popping up across Buck Creek Township for the past few years. Throughout the boom, Sutherlin was vocal about the pressure mounting on public safety services and need for more financial assistance to keep up.

Nylund added Sutherlin was instrumental in the department’s involvement in a program led by American Medical Response and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that provides emergency medical services and ambulance assistance to U.S. communities after disasters like hurricanes. Participation in that program not only helps communities, Nylund said, but helps fund equipment and supply needs for the Buck Creek Township Fire Department.

“I have enjoyed the many years that I have worked with Chief Sutherlin,” Nylund said. “There are many experiences that have been very good and rewarding. Like all fire departments, there have also been many tragic and serious situations. Chief Sutherlin has been a good leader, a good listener and a good man, a fire chief that has guided us through all types of situations and encounters. It has been a good run with him as fire chief.”

Nylund said the department has a strong support staff to oversee daily operations and responses to the community, including the three battalion chiefs: David DeVore, Brad Goff and Rob White.

“We plan to coordinate together as a group to support each other, meet some short term goals, and help transition the fire department to a new chief and trustee in 2022,” Nylund said.

Sutherlin worked closely with colleagues outside of his department as well, including Fire Chief Brandon Kleine of Sugar Creek Township, which is just to the south of Buck Creek Township.

“When I unexpectedly took over as chief in 2019, Dave was one of the first people who reached out to me,” Kleine said. “He kind of took me under his wing and just did that under his own accord. He didn’t have to do that, but he was a great resource for me because I’d never dealt with a lot of things at the county level and the political level. He knew the system.”

Hancock County Board of Commissioners President John Jessup has worked closely with Sutherlin on public safety matters over the years, including securing fire department equipment and hammering out mutual aid agreements. Jessup noted Sutherlin also serves on the Hancock County Redevelopment Commission, which has been involved in Buck Creek Township’s industrial transformation.

“He has a wealth of knowledge about how the growth and development out there plays into public safety,” Jessup said. “He’s been a pleasure to work with. We hate to see him go and wish him luck.”

Simunek, who won the Republican nomination for Buck Creek Township trustee last month, is currently uncontested in the general election this November. She said if she takes office next January, she would enlist others to help determine who the township’s next fire chief will be, including firefighters and township advisory board members along with possibly state firefighter union representatives and area fire chiefs.

“I would certainly rely on a lot of other people for that,” she said.