AVILLA — By a 2-1 vote, the Avilla Town Council fired Fire Chief Jonathan Harris Wednesday.
The council named Chad Geiger to replace Harris. Geiger had served a stint as interim chief when Harris was ill.
Councilmen Phil Puckett and Bill Krock voted to fire Harris. Council president Paul Shepherd voted against the move.
Following the meeting, Krock said he could not comment on the situation since it was a personnel matter. Shepherd had the same response when asked why he voted against the measure.
In a phone interview later Wednesday evening, Harris said he was asked to meet with town officials Tuesday. In that meeting, Puckett told Harris he was going to be demoted.
According to Harris, when he asked Puckett why he was being demoted, he was told because he “wasn’t doing his job.” When Harris asked for specific examples, none were provided, he said.
“I was blown away,” Harris said. “I don’t know what I did. They would never give me any reason. I’m very, very frustrated.”
Harris turned in his keys and fire fighting equipment Tuesday evening.
Harris had recently been reinstated as chief after he was out for several months battling back from a rare illness.
At the end of October 2017, Harris began to experience numbness in his hands, which eventually spread to his legs. He was admitted to the hospital on Nov. 2, 2017, and soon after was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
It is a rare disorder, with fewer than 20,000 cases per year in the United States, in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The cause of the syndrome is unknown, and there is not a known cure. However, most people recover.
His lungs eventually collapsed. He had four chest tubes put in. He was on a ventilator for weeks.
On March 2, 2018, he found he could raise his right arm a little. At the time, he’d said it was like a light switch that had suddenly been turned on. Just as suddenly, just as inexplicably, he could move again, if only a little.
By the middle of March, Harris was on the mend, rehabbing at Presence Sacred Heart Home in Avilla. His fine motor skills weren’t there yet — grasping a jug of Mountain Dew to take a drink was an arduous task. He had gotten some movement back in his legs. He could sit up on his own, a task he had to relearn and work at.
Harris continued to improve and was cleared by physicians to resume full duties with the fire department.
The Avilla Town Council reinstated Harris as chief on Feb. 20.
His illness gave him perspective on his dismissal as chief after 19 years with the department.
“I’ve been through 10 times worse,” Harris said. “I don’t need this in my life. It was a fun ride.”