The Abington Township board removed James Ausmus as the township fire department’s chief with a 2-1 vote March 26.

Township Trustee Steven Kaiser said that during a meeting with an attorney, a determination was made that Ausmus breached his contract with the township and misused funds when distributing stipends to department officers during January. Ausmus said he assigned each officer a specific task to complete during the year, and Mike Taylor, the assistant chief, did not complete his task. Ausmus withheld half of Taylor’s stipend and half of his own stipend, he said.

“We can just go by our contract, and when he didn’t follow the contract in January with the stipend pay to the officers, that’s the breech of the contract and the misuse of funds,” said Kaiser, who asked for a motion to remove Ausmus, who had been suspended by the fire department membership.

Board member Doug Toschlog made the motion — “I wish there was a better way, but I don’t see it,” he said — and, after a significant pause for consideration, member Malinda Glover provided a second. They both voted in favor of removing Ausmus, while member Theresa Clark opposed the removal.

Ausmus, who became chief in January 2021, was praised by Kaiser for efforts such as receiving the donation of new helmets and having the department’s gear and air packs up to date. Toschlog said the removal follows an accumulation of small things.

“It’s a sad situation, because three or four months ago, everyone was getting along and working together,” Toschlog said.

There was little discussion prior to the board vote, which keeps Taylor as the interim chief, and Ausmus said the board has not heard from him about accusations that “don’t hold water.” He said he’ll ask questions during the April 20 board meeting.

Ausmus, who expects he’ll now be dismissed as a member of the fire department he joined July 5, 2005, said his removal is a ploy to distract attention from Kaiser putting Ausmus’ name on a letter soliciting an equipment donation from Scioto Township in Pickaway County, Ohio. Kaiser, who worked for the Scioto Township Fire Department, said the letter that referred to Kaiser in the third person, said “Abington Township Fire Department” across the top and carried the typed signature “Chief James Ausmus” is akin to a form letter.

“If I had printed that letter out, physically signed James’ name to it and sent it off, it would have been forgery,” Kaiser said during the meeting. “It was emailed as a form letter like we do for every other donation.”

Ausmus brought the letter to the board’s attention and asked that Kaiser turn the acquired fire truck over to the fire department, and after no resolution was reached, another fire department member sent copies of the letter and other materials to media, law enforcement and state government entities. The fire department membership dismissed that member, and now Ausmus has been removed as chief.

Criminal investigations into the letter were initiated in Ohio and by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.

Kaiser, who referred to Ausmus and the other man as “disgruntled employees,” said Ausmus planned to sell the 1999 Pierce Freightliner engine received from Scioto Township. Ausmus said that was an option, but he preferred to form a fire territory with Milton and provide the truck to Milton’s department, which needs it more.

Taylor told board members the truck would now be repaired and put into service.

Ausmus said he expects the fire department will continue providing service with the same level of professionalism, but the ongoing drama is “going to hurt us.”

“I’ve given my heart to that place, doing whatever it takes to make sure it’s taken care of,” Ausmus said. “This is hurting me, because it’s not being taken care of.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 3 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.