TAYLOR – Vince Fedel, a 23-year veteran of the Fire Department and the chief for the last four years, retired Thursday.
Fedel said he made the decision after consulting with his family, saying he is ready for a less stressful lifestyle. His wife, Connie, is a yoga instructor. Fedel said he plans to pursue a similar career.
At age 45, Fedel is the same age his father, Joe, was when he died from cancer in 1978. Vince Fedel’s goal was to retire from firefighting when he could and pursue other activities in life.
“It’s been inherent in me for 31 years now,” he said. “My dad died when I was 14. I’m now at an age when I can start a new chapter in my life and still have my health.”
Fedel said his father’s death made quite an impression on him and “was probably another reason I was drawn to help people.”
Fedel said he always has been driven toward service-oriented jobs and helping people. He was appointed chief of Taylor’s 61-member department in February 2006. At 41, he was the youngest fire chief in city history.
Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand said Fedel’s retirement was unexpected, and that there had been no prior discussion about him leaving. The mayor said Fedel’s contract expired in December, and that the city had offered an extension.
“I would have been happy if he stayed,” Lamarand said. “I would have welcomed the consistency in the Fire Department and not had that challenge in front of me.
“He said it was a completely personal decision. He thought about it, talked to his wife and thought it was the right time. I’m happy for Vince. He has a great family. He’s at a ripe young age and has a new opportunity to venture off into life and can spend time with his family.”
Fedel has two sons, Jake and Andrew, and a stepdaughter, Kayla. He said in retirement he’s looking forward to attending all of his boys’ hockey games and Kayla’s cheerleading events. He also wants to get more involved in the Fish & Loaves Community Food Pantry, joining his wife in her volunteer efforts there.
Fedel joined the Fire Department in October 1986 as an on-call auxiliary officer. He earned his emergency medical technician license at what then was known as Wyandotte General Hospital and became a full-time fire medic in the department on July 4, 1988.
Fedel was promoted to sergeant in 1990 and to lieutenant in 1994. He became captain in July 1999 and deputy chief a month later. Along the way, he was an engine operator, in charge of the ambulance and the officer in charge of a fire scene.
As deputy chief, he attended the School of Staff and Command at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. During his career, he was active in the firefighters union, holding the positions of secretary, trustee and vice president. He also sat on two bargaining committees and negotiated two contracts.
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done in my career – especially the hands-on aspects of the job,” Fedel said.
The last four years have been marked by:
●The department’s self-contained breathing apparatus grant for $155,000 from the Federal Emergencey Managment Agency, which will give firefighters 25 new breathing apparatus.
●An improved relationship between the city and the Taylor School District, which enabled “Fireman Jesse” Kriebel to work on fire safety issues with school children on a full-time basis.
●Greatly improved labor relations between the city and the Taylor Professional Firefighters Union. Fedel stressed the improvements were a “two-way street” and credited the union’s executive board members for being willing to think “outside the box on a number of occasions.” He noted that the firefighters now compete in several sporting events a year against Taylor police officers to raise money for Fish & Loaves and the police Holly McGeogh Memorial Scholarship Fund.
●Having good grassroots connections with local civic organizations. In one case, members of the Rotary Club of Taylor raised funds, purchased and donated to the Department an all-terrain vehicle for emergency use in large crowd settings. All the city had to do was buy a stretcher in the event that someone needed to be transported through a crowd to a waiting ambulance.
●An improvement in code enforcement in the fire marshal’s division.
●An improvement in customer care. Fedel said fire medics respond to more than 6,000 medical responses a year and receive a great deal of compliments, all for “just doing their job.”
“The customer-service aspect and the quality of care is as high as it’s ever been in this community,” Fedel said. “That’s through nothing I did; it’s inherent in the nature of our responders.”
Despite serving as chief during tough budget times and sometimes finding himself in the middle of disputes between firefighters and the city administration, Fedel said he has been “proud” to serve as
“When I joined this great department, I would never have dreamed of being named chief,” he said. “Twenty-three years ago, I walked through the doors and applied to the auxiliary department just to see if there was a job that would fit me. I know there are aspects of the job that I will miss.”
Fedel recently completed a term as chairman of the Downriver Mutual Aid Fire Chiefs. He also served on a Wayne County Homeland Security organization. He said he enjoyed working with the staff of U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) in trying to change the structure of the grant process.
The outgoing chief said he knows the mayor faces the unenviable position of making cuts in the city to balance the budget.
“I feel I’m leaving at a time when the Fire Department is clearly in a safe and respected position,” the chief said. “And I would hope that any concessions across the city workforce are evenly shared.”
He said the last contract accepted by the firefighters union shows that firefighters “are willing to accept concessions to assist the city in its budgetary woes.”
“I’m sure if they are requested to come to the table,” Fedel said, “they will come up with innovative ways of keeping their members working, thus providing stability and an income for all of those with families in the department.
“It seems like we sometimes take firefighters for granted and don’t realize that after helping others all day at work, they have the same issues and stresses that we all have waiting for them when they get home.”
Meeting with fellow firefighters behind closed doors to discuss their concerns about “life traumas and issues” has been an experience he will never forget.
“Responders out there are seeing things weekly and monthly that most people might see once in their lifetime,” Fedel said. “They’re dealing with that and going home and not wanting to share it with their wife or husband and not wanting to tell their kids, all the while dealing with it. That takes a toll. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of stress debriefing. I’ve been fortunate to have fellow firefighters trained by mental health professionals so they can come in and assist firefighters through issues.”
For the last five years, Fedel has been practicing Hatha Yoga. Connie Fedel is the proprietor of Taylor Yoga. In April, Vince Fedel will participate in a nine-week intensive training session in Bikram Yoga in Nevada.
“That’s something I found helps reduce the stress associated with my current position and others, whether they’re doctors, nurses, lawyers or unemployed,” he said.
Most important, he said, is for his family to get around the concept of Fedel being retired from the Fire Department. He may have created a family legacy. His youngest son, Andrew, wants to follow his dad’s footsteps as a firefighter.
“I’m still Vince Fedel,” he said. “I always have been. I just happened to be fire chief. I didn’t take the job for the pomp and circumstance. I always try to defer to the job the guys do.”
A celebration marking Fedel’s retirement was held Thursday at the Midtown Fire Station.