Less than two years after retiring from the Verona Fire Department, former chief Joseph Giver has died at age 63.
Chief Dan Machotka told the Press on Tuesday, Sept. 14, he had died two days earlier and that he had been hospitalized after having contracted COVID-19. Giver’s wife, Darla, had also been hospitalized, Machotka said, but while she was released in the first week of September, he had been sent to the ICU in a Green Bay hospital and was intubated Sept. 8.
Giver was Verona’s first full-time chief, hired in 2011 from the village of Dousman to help the Verona Joint Fire District improve its faltering response times and prepare for the eventual construction of a new building. He accomplished both of those in short order, with the $10 million building opening in 2015, 18 months after the city took full control of the department.
His entire tenure was also marked with strife as a manager, as Verona has a challenging “combo” department -- both volunteers and full-time firefighters.
The new station improved that situation, providing access to interns and paid-on-premises personnel to fill in gaps. But Giver struggled to walk the delicate balance with the firefighters’ union, which called for his resignation in October 2018.
That highly publicized statement resulted from a disagreement over what the union called inconsistent disciplinary procedures and decisions. Its complaints led the city to commission an independent investigation that painted an unflattering picture of the department culture.
But Giver was resolute, or perhaps even stubborn, putting off his planned early 2019 retirement to ensure he would be leaving on his own terms, he told the Press later that year.
By the time he retired -- officially in January 2020, but effectively in September 2019 -- Giver proudly proclaimed he had addressed the management issues and considered the department “transformed.” It had 24/7 staffing, a state-of-the-art station and new equipment, city management and full-time and volunteer rosters double what it had eight years prior.
All that led to service levels far better than it boasted previously, when any incident occurring outside business hours would require volunteers to drive to the station, put on gear and wait for a full squad of four before even leaving the station. At the time, Fitchburg would routinely beat Verona to calls during off hours.
As he was preparing for his final days in the office, Giver told the Press he hoped to move back up north, near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he’d hunt and go snowmobiling and maybe volunteer with a local department. But he was waiting for his wife, Darla, to retire from her job in Belleville.
The two had sold their Fitchburg home and moved to Marinette, where they were in the process of remodeling a house and she was looking for another job, Machotka told the Press.