After 16 years of service to the city of Delaware, Fire Chief John Donahue is set to move on next month. Donahue has accepted the assistant chief position with Washington Township, which serves the city of Dublin and portions of northwest Franklin County, southwestern Delaware County and eastern Union County.
Donahue’s last day with the Delaware Fire Department will be Jan. 14, 2023, and City Manager Tom Homan will name an interim chief after the new year while the search for Delaware’s permanent chief gets underway.
“He has been a valued member of our team during his 16-year tenure and leaves an impressive legacy of positive growth for the department,” Homan said of Donahue.
Homan added, “John’s calm but determined and confident style of leadership and management will be greatly missed, but we wish him well in his new endeavor.”
Donahue began his tenure in Delaware in 2006 after returning to his home state following an 11-year stint as the assistant fire chief with the Temple Terrace Fire Department in Florida. The decision to return to Ohio stemmed largely from the wish to be closer to family, and as Donahue began looking for an opportunity, he zeroed in on an opening in Delaware to become the first chief hired from outside the city.
Aside from him and his wife wanting to be closer to family, Donahue said Delaware also had two additional factors working in its favor. He was unaware of one of them, however, until he was able to visit the city for the first time during the interview process.
“It was so close to family, number one,” Donahue said of the draw. “Number two was the growing area. But number three was when I came up here for the first time, which was to do the interview, I actually got here a day early. There was a restaurant down on South Sandusky Street that is no longer there. … I was eating outside and I called my wife up and said this reminds me of where we grew up. This is what we remember growing up with as kids. Nothing against Florida, but it’s completely different.”
Donahue played an integral role in the city passing a levy in 2010 to support fire and EMS services, as well as in the construction of two new fire stations with a third set to open next year. Under Donahue’s leadership, the department also received international accreditation in 2021, a status fewer than 300 departments have earned worldwide. While those accomplishments certainly stand out in Donahue’s tenure, he said he’s most proud of the people he’s worked with in Delaware and what they mean to the community.
“It has to be the most valuable resource that we have, which is our personnel,” he said. “I say that because those are the people that, day in and day out, serve our community and make a difference every single day. I look back and I really do not get any complaints about the services that we provide. I get just the opposite with the number of compliments and appreciation for the great work that these people do day in and day out. I think that’s the biggest thing because, without them, we couldn’t have accomplished anything that our fire department has accomplished and continues to accomplish. … It makes the life of myself as a chief and, certainly, the lives of the people who live and work here great.”
As for the timing of his decision to move on to a new challenge, Donahue said that after 16 years in Delaware, it’s time for both himself and the Delaware Fire Department to start fresh.
“I’ve been here for 16 years and one of the things that’s important for any type of leader, and this goes back to a city manager who I worked with down in Florida, he said as a leader, you need to lead. And by leading, he said there are times when you have to look and realize that over time, you become part of the organization and you’re no longer looking at that mile-high overview because you’ve been so ingrained in everything that they’ve done. That’s why, typically, any executive officer ends up moving on after about eight years of service.
“We have done a tremendous amount of work here in our community over these 16 years, and I think we have a solid foundation to continue to move this department forward with the personnel that we have here in our department and the stuff that we’ve worked to set up. That’s really one of the reasons why I’m looking. I think it’s an opportunity for our department to continue to grow with new leadership and give them the opportunity instead of some guy who’s been here for 16 years. Number two, it gives me an opportunity to work with another agency as my time is getting closer to retirement to keep me fresh and give me new challenges to move forward.”
Donahue added that, naturally, there is a financial component as well to moving on as the position in Washington Township will come with a pay increase.
That he’s accomplished so much during his tenure and has helped to ensure the department’s quality of service will continue seamlessly has also helped Donahue with the decision to leave Delaware.
“As I always tell my personnel, when they leave here, know that they’ve left it a better place because they’ve served here,” he said. “I say that about them, and I hope that my personnel as well as city administration, the department heads, the city manager, city council, and certainly the citizens can say the same thing about my tenure here, too.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.