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Fire chief resigns

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Dave Whitt’s last day as Lincoln’s fire chief will be Dec. 29. That’s because Whitt, 50, said he has chosen to resign and “take an early retirement.” “I’m going to try to move on and do other things, and spend time with my family,” Whitt said. Whitt’s salary is $134,000. When asked how much he’ll make as a retiree, he “anticipates around $60,000 a year.” When asked by The News Messenger if he was being pushed out of his job, Whitt responded by saying “absolutely not.” “I have a pretty good relationship with my boss and the City Council,” Whitt said. “There are a number of factors that I have examined and analyzed in order for me to leave.” Whitt said he is of retirement age, and has been applying for other jobs during the past two years “since the financial struggles of Lincoln have been occurring.” “The other part of the issue is there’s not much in Lincoln that a fire chief can do right now for his people. There’s no money,” Whitt said. “All we are providing for is response and staffing, and we are going to lose staffing. I don’t see a lot of turn-around any time soon in that realm.” Whitt also said he is concerned for his firefighting staff. “Every time I have a weekend like I had last weekend, with one engine covering the city, it is extraordinarily stressful,” Whitt said. “I worry about my guys, and there are very limited things I can do for them.” Whitt said the city would “probably appoint an interim chief” for the time being, but that has not been determined. When asked if money saved from his departure would save the three firefighters who are to be laid off in January, Whitt said “I’m not exactly certain on that.” “That won’t be determined until the mid-year budget,” Whitt said. “I don’t know what the budget line holds on that.” After Whitt led the successful effort to extinguish the August tanker fire downtown, the fire chief was praised by many community members and groups. Attempts to reach Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep were unsuccessful Thursday. His secretary called The News Messenger to say that Estep wasn’t available until Friday to talk. “I believe the option our city manager is considering to fill the position is to share a fire chief with a nearby community,” said City Councilman Stan Nader on Thursday. “But you need to talk to Jim (Estep) about that.” Nader said that “it’s not a secret Dave is leaving.” Whitt announced his resignation to Estep about a month ago, according to Nader, and Estep then told City Council about the resignation. “It’s either money for a full-time fire chief or we lay off more firefighters,” Nader said. “It’s the city manager’s call.” Carol Feineman contributed to this story.