I Love Dayton: Fire Chief retiring after ‘A good life’

I Love Dayton

DAYTON, OH (WDTN) — “I’d like to think I was a blue collar kind of guy. I just wanted to come in, do my job, just wanted to come in and do my job, do it the best I could do.”

That was Jeffrey Payne’s goal when he first logged in as “Probationary Firefighter” Jeffrey Payne in 1988. Now “Chief”, Payne remembers that first run at Company 13 in 1988, but he never thought his run with the Dayton fire department would end with him as “Chief”.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” says Payne. “I came into this fire house thinking if I can be a firefighter make it 25, 30 years, that would be a good life.”

This Northmont graduate is a self-described “Ordinary guy”, who also happens to be my uncle, says he always put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, shorts, too, even hockey pants.

“A lack of athletic ability. I was big so all I had to do was skate fast and hit the first person I saw,” jokes Payne. “For what I lacked in athletic ability, I made up for it in size and penalty minutes.”

Hockey was not to be but serving was, four years in the Marine Corps and then 31 more with the Dayton Fire Department the last six as “Chief”, where Payne established a landmark healthcare program for firefighters and lead the effort to rewrite state law to better prosecute vacant house fires, but Payne’s biggest moment was yet to come.

2019 has been a tough year. “Real tough,” Payne adds.

May 27th started as a typical Memorial Day of remembrance, family and cookouts, then…

“All of a sudden my phone started blowing up,” Payne remembers. “We were getting phone calls from the Trotwood City Manager. We were getting calls from the Harrison Fire Department, their Chief, asking for help. Didn’t really know what we had. It was dark.”

An EF 4 tornado gutted a 20 mile track from Brookville into Old North Dayton, yet there was a silver lining or perhaps it was something bigger.

During a news conference the next day, Payne addressed the sudden change in the tornadoes tract say, “Miraculously, I do not know how this happened, but we are grateful. It went around Children’s Hospital. It just amazes me, going in a trajectory straight for the hospital and then just went in a different direction.”

It was “the Big One”, and Payne says they were prepared. Now, something completely different and foreign to get ready for, hanging up the helmet and retiring.

“I just don’t know if I’m ready,” Payne admits. “I’ve worked over half of my life for the Dayton Fire Department, so chapter 2 starts in January. It’s going to be tough.”

While Chief Payne is retiring from the Dayton Fire Department, he is not going far. He will remain the Chief of Ohio Task Force One and also FEMA’s representative for Search and Rescue Teams in its East Division.

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