VERNON TOWNSHIP – A leader who helped guide the Vernon Township Fire Department through its efforts to grow on pace with its quickly developing response area is stepping down.
Chad Abel, who has served as Vernon Township’s fire chief since March 2020, announced his resignation effective today, June 18.
“Leading this fire department has been an incredible time in my career,” Abel said at a joint Vernon Township Advisory Board-Vernon Township Fire Protection Territory Board meeting Wednesday. “And these firefighters that you have, that you’ve hired and you’ve allowed me to lead have knocked it out of the park, created a fire department that you can be proud of in a record amount of time.”
Abel, who also serves as a captain with the Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services, started in Vernon Township as a part-time firefighter and medic. He joined at the request of friend and former Vernon Township Fire Chief Todd Jordan shortly before Jordan stepped down in January 2020.
At that time, the Vernon Township Fire Department was coming out of consolidating two separate volunteer fire departments in Fortville and McCordsville. Not long after Abel became chief, the Indiana General Assembly turned down special legislation that would’ve raised the township’s maximum property tax levy for fire and emergency medical services. The township had been hoping for the measure in order to help fire protection and emergency medical services keep up with the area’s ballooning population.
That prompted township officials to transition toward creating a fire protection territory for gaining the needed tax revenue.
Last fall, Abel swore in the first full-time firefighters in the township’s history. In December, McCordsville got 24/7 on-station coverage for the first time. The township welcomed two new fire engines this January. Plans continue for a new fire station in McCordsville.
“I was able to cast a vision and able to set the pace of which we were moving, but … I couldn’t have accomplished that myself,” Abel told the Daily Reporter. “That’s not my list of accomplishments. That’s us as an agency, on from the elected officials on through our organization.”
Abel mentioned his leadership style and the political process during his comments Wednesday and in his resignation letter.
“I … understand that sometimes leadership is there for the right time, the right moment, and I think it was, but I also understand sometimes the political process doesn’t allow that leadership to continue in its form,” he said at the meeting.
He told the Daily Reporter that he had two main priorities when he started as chief. One was that serving the public comes first, and the second was to let firefighters know he cares about them and to build the culture of a family.
“I’m not saying it’s good, I’m not saying it’s bad; what I’m saying is at a certain point you start realizing that the political system above you doesn’t necessarily understand the heart and soul of firefighters,” Abel said. “When I became the fire chief, I said I would not allow that position to change who I am at the core, and I’ll say that as we grew as a fire department there were certain pressures that I felt would cause me, if I wanted to maintain my job as fire chief – I would have to change who I am to do that.”
Vernon Township Trustee Florence May thanked Abel for his service.
“We are all incredibly grateful to Chief Abel,” May said. “In the first year, he did an incredible, incredible job in getting us from the baby steps that we had taken, really moving us into a foundational program, and everybody is very appreciative of that.”
She added those early stages moved at a fast pace with challenging demands.
“We have asked people to do full-time jobs and it’s really tough when people have other full-time jobs,” she said. “That is really, really hard.”
Greg Brewer, a McCordsville Town Council member who serves on the township fire protection territory board, agreed.
“This has been a sprint to get this up and going,” Brewer said. “It has not been a slow-paced walk. Chad was able to come in and do that.”
The territory board will determine how to select Abel’s replacement. Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Mark Elder will serve on an interim basis.
“We’re very fortunate we’ve got Deputy Chief Elder,” May said. “He has been running so much of the operation all during the week as it is, and continuously out on runs, and so we are very fortunate that we know we’re in quite good hands.”
Elder praised Abel’s service as chief and said he understands his desire to step down. Elder added he’s interested in being considered for the chief position on a permanent basis.
“We’ll just keep moving forward,” he said. “The main thing is to make sure that we serve the community and that when they dial 911, that we respond, and we’re in a good position to do that. We have a very dedicated and well-trained group of people, so there will be no difference in service delivered.”