Merrill Fire Chief abruptly retires from department

MERRILL, Wis. (WSAW) - Merrill Fire Chief Dave Savone is no longer with the Merrill Fire Department. Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson tells NewsChannel 7 Savone handed him a letter of retirement Wednesday, saying Savone believed it was time for him to leave.

Johnson said there were issues that came to light in the last two weeks that needed to be addressed. Johnson classified the issues as managerial, and related to attitude, but emphasized that they were not illegal.

"The way that I thought a department should run, they way people should be treated as opposed to how he thought it should be run and people should be treated," Johnson said, generalizing the complaints department employees told him.

Johnson told NewsChannel 7 he was limited in what he could say, because Savone chose to retire. A NewsChannel 7 source, close to the situation who asked to remain anonymous, tells us that a combination of factors led to his departure including how he handled the dismissal of one of his firefighters.

Johnson says Savone has done some good things for the department, including introducing new technology. He says Savone has been with the Department for the last five and a half years, and is eligible for a limited pension from the State of Wisconsin. He says he’s already receiving a pension from Illinois.

Before Savone submitted his letter, Johnson said he planned to address the issues he became aware of when Savone returned from his vacation, but because the retirement would make the issues moot, he did not bring them up to Savone. If he would have had the chance to discuss, these are some of the things he would have asked: "Why certain things would have been done in a certain way or manner. Why this person would be assigned this, or why this person would be taken off of that, how somebody may be addressed."

When asked about any issues or accusations against him, Savone told NewsChannel 7, he was not aware of any. He said, as chief, like any boss in any job, he had to make difficult decisions at times that maybe not everyone liked or agreed with.

However, he said he tried to make the department better, including raising about $1.6 million for various needs and programs for the department, like significantly upgrading its technology, raising the bar for firefighter education standards, and creating a program to educate firefighters and their families about mental health and PTSD.

Johnson met regularly with Savone and when asked about what challenges Savone faced as Chief, he responded, being an outsider could have played a role.

"We had had chief after chief who came from within the department and he was the first one in anyone's memory who came from outside of the department as chief," explained Johnson. "So, I would see some resentment there from people who didn't get promoted, perhaps, but that still doesn't excuse anyone else's conduct."

Johnson praised Savone's many accomplishments as chief.

On a personal Facebook page, Dave Savone announced his retirement saying, “Today I submitted my notice of retirement, May 1978 I walked into the Carpentersville Fire Station, October 1982 I walked into the Hoffman Estates Fire Station, December 2012 I walked into the Merrill Station. Today I walk out the station after 40 years, to spend time with my high school sweetheart.”

When asked why he retired so abruptly, Savone said it was just his time. He had talked it over with his wife while on vacation, but has been thinking about it for the last six months. He also said he did not feel he needed the traditional big retirement party most chiefs have, as he already had had one at his last fire department in Illinois.

Johnson tells Newschannel 7 Battalion Chief Scott Krause has accepted the position of Interim Chief, as they look to fill the position.