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Fired up in Coatesville

The resignation of Coatesville's fire chief after a turbulent tenure is being cheered by some while others protest the selection of the acting chief.

Kevin Johnson, who had headed the Coatesville Fire Department since 2006, submitted his resignation Monday morning, which was accepted this time. Three years ago - amid a city-area scourge of 70 arsons - City Council talked him out of quitting.

Since then, Johnson, who has repeatedly declined comment, has come under periodic criticism. Most recently, an independent investigation of the Coatesville Fire Department completed nearly two months ago presented a portrait of inept management and dangerous dysfunction. The evaluation was sought in mid-March in response to a Sept. 10 fire in a city apartment complex that injured seven firefighters.

The authors of the report, James P. Smith and William Shouldis, two retired Philadelphia firefighters and instructors with decades of experience, urged the city to improve the chain of comand, efficiency, and accountability for the department, which uses volunteers to supplement a career staff of 18. They said leadership at the fire scene was lacking and miscommunication put firefighters at risk, such as when they reentered the building to search for a colleague who had gone home without telling anyone.

Richard G. Poulson, the attorney for the city's career firefighters, said the scathing report made Johnson's departure inevitable. He said he believed the tension between the career and volunteer firefighters would be lessened by improving the department's professionalism and safety. "Both sides need to work together," he said.

Poulson said he believed Jim Lentz, a career firefighter named the acting chief, was well-qualified to make the changes. "He's basically been running the department for several years," Poulson said. Rob Sigismonti, head of the volunteer Washington Hose Co., condemned Lentz's selection, likening it to "taking a private and elevating him to a general."