By Graham Sturgeon, staff writer
HONORED – Vernon Township Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hart was honored by the Michigan State Firefighters Association with their Community Service Award during the group’s annual conference in Alpena on June 28.
The prestigious award is handed out only one time every year, and the pool of candidates comes from all across the state. Hart has served with the Vernon Township Fire Department since it began in 1989. (Courtesy Photo)
Vernon Township Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hart was recognized by the Michigan State Firefighters Association (MSFA) as their Community Servant of the Year during the organization’s annual conference on Sunday, June 28. The MSFA, which celebrated its 140th anniversary during the conference, bestows this honor upon one individual in the state of Michigan every year, and this year Hart was the lucky guy.
Hart joined the City of Durand Fire Department in 1988 as a volunteer, back when the department covered all of Vernon Township and Durand. The Vernon Township Fire Department was established the next year, in 1989, and Hart became one of their charter members. He began his service as a volunteer, but Hart moved up the ranks and spent time as a captain, a safety officer and a lieutenant before becoming the assistant chief.
Hart is a third-generation volunteer who takes his responsibilities seriously. Sergeant Anthony Karhoff, who serves with Hart in the department, described how highly Hart’s fellow firefighters think of their assistant chief, a few days after the award ceremony.
“Bill is not a guy who ever wants the accolades or recognition,” Karhoff said. “To him, he is just doing his job. He never picks and chooses his calls and he never takes vacation. He is always there for us. His leadership is always present.”
Hart was nominated for the award in June by his fellow coworkers and a number of community members who all came together to surprise the assistant chief. They crafted a letter that they sent to the MSFA, and they then went about planning how to get Hart all the way up to Alpena for the conference without him knowing the real reason for the trip. The team coaxed Hart out of Vernon Township for the weekend and even made sure that his family was there to surprise him as well. The group, operated under the guise that the trip was to honor Lieutenant Eric Mogg.
“To Bill, as the assistant chief, leadership isn’t all about getting the other firefighters to do something,” Karhoff said. “He tries to inspire them to become something within the fire department. His mentorship empowers the others to find their calling in fire service. He doesn’t care if he is training his future replacement; he has always been a big advocate of continuing education.”
“ He told me something awhile back that has stuck with me,” Karhoff said. “He told me that he ‘is not a leader that creates followers, but a leader that creates leaders for the future.’ That is something I have lived by ever since.”
**Karhoff also received a special honor during the annual conference, as he was promoted from Third Vice President of the MSFA to Second Vice President. That makes Karhoff one of the youngest members of the MSFA to hold that position, and it means that he is only two chairs away from the presidency. In addition to his daily duties at Home Depot east of Owosso and on his farm, Karhoff also serves as the chairperson of the Shiawassee Chapter of the Michigan Townships Association and as the Supervisor of Shiawassee Township.