The river city of Dayton, Kentucky, was founded in March 1867. As more families and businesses moved into the city, it became imperative to develop fire protection and emergency services to insure the safety of Dayton’s citizens. In 1898, a city-run, paid fire department was organized and a horse drawn hose and ladder truck was acquired. Anyone within hearing distance of the sound of the city’s big fire bell ran to the fire house and jumped onto the truck to help fight fires.
The first motorized fire truck, a Republic Truck, was purchased in 1916. Then in 1924, an Ahrens Fox Pumper was purchased. Historic records state that in the early days, two paid men would work 12-hour split shifts. When they responded to a fire scene, they would commandeer spectators from the crowd to assist them in fighting the fire, for which they were paid $2.00.
On January 10, 1933, a group of public-spirited citizens who wanted better protection for their city organized the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department. The small paid fire department acquired 39 volunteers and Fire Chief Clarence Kiefer Sr. arranged a schedule by which four volunteers would be on duty every hour of the day. Each man was admitted to membership only after a thorough investigation of his qualifications. The department functioned as a club and had rules similar to those of a fraternal organization. Those volunteers received many hours of training in two mandatory sessions each week. Membership grew and grew, and in 1949, historians boasted that the department consisted of four paid men and seventy-eight volunteers.
In 1934, a Life Saving Squad was formed becoming the second squad in all of Campbell County. Squad training was received under the direction of Chief Barney Houston and Captain Daniel Kummer of the Cincinnati Fire Department. Dayton firefighters on the Life Saving Squad were highly praised by the Cincinnati Fire Department for the ‘zeal and willingness’ with which they pursued the course. The Dayton Squad was the first in Northern Kentucky to receive the Red Cross Merit Certificate and Registration. Originally, the squad runs were made in a fire truck. Then in 1935, an ambulance, The Invalid Coach, was purchased. A total of 45 squad runs were responded to in that first year.
In 1938, the fire department was the first to carry oxygen, and an oxygen tent for use in a home, and an invalid basket for transporting patients. After just four years of existence, local physicians and the Red Cross pronounced the life squad and its personnel to be the most thoroughly trained and equipped squad in Northern Kentucky. The original squad responded to sister cities Bellevue and Newport, and surrounding Campbell County, as it still does today.
Dayton’s first fire department was housed at 505-507 Berry Ave. In the early 1930’s, the old abandoned Sixth Street School was refurbished to house the Dayton City Building at 514 Sixth Avenue, and provisions were made to house the Fire and Police Departments. By 1944, a small-detached garage was completed, which protected the fire department’s old Ahrens Fox and the new 1944 Seagrave Quad Pumper. In 1946, some additional renovations were made and in 1963, a new garage was built by the volunteers, adjacent to the City Building. Finally, in the early 1990’s, the most recent addition of a new garage with a state-of-the-art exhaust system and drive through bays was completed.
Around 1945, fire bells were installed in the firemen’s homes. When the house siren blew, it tripped a relay switch to their phones and rang a bell, alerting the volunteers of the emergency. In the 1960’s, firemen were equipped with Federal Tin Tins and Plectron home monitors to keep them abreast of an emergency situation. Then in the late 1970’s, an individual paging system was adapted. Presently, the Fire Department participates in the 911 emergency response systems.
Up-to-date fire equipment is a must for effective fire protection and emergency medical treatment, and the Fire Department has always prided itself for purchasing and maintaining state-of-the-art equipment. In the past, funds for this task were acquired through dances, raffles, and carnivals. However, in the 1960’s the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department changed their method of fundraising from social events to dividends from insurance taxes received by the city. Today, the cities of Bellevue and Dayton share equally in providing annual funding to the BDFD.
Finally, no fire department could function without good leadership. The Dayton Fire Department has been blessed with many knowledgeable and dedicated leaders. The earliest records report that the Fire Chief in 1870-1878 was George McClure. In 1933, Chief Clarence Kiefer was very instrumental in organizing the volunteers. He spent much of his time training with the Cincinnati Fire Department and passing that training on to the men in his command.
Chief Charles Spreter (1949-1990) was the youngest Fire Chief in Kentucky, taking command at age 21 and serving for 40-plus years. Many innovative changes in the fire department took place under his leadership. Firefighter Denny Lynn took over as Fire Chief in 1990 (1990-2012) and made great steps in implementing the department’s growth and standards of operations. In 1997, Chief Lynn served as president of the Campbell County Firefighter’s Educational Association. At the same time, the department’s Safety Officer, Joe Eggemeier, served as president of the Northern Kentucky Firefighter’s Association, and his Assistant Chief, Mike O’Day, held the revered office of President of the Kentucky Firefighter’s Association.
During Chief Lynn’s time as Fire Chief, the cities of Bellevue and Dayton began talks about merging their respective fire departments to reduce city costs. On July 1, 2002, the Fire Department Bellevue-Dayton (FDBD) was established through a merger of the Bellevue Fire Department and the Dayton Fire Department as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), and a Fire Board was established to oversee the department. The Fire Board chose to house the FDBD at 514 Sixth Avenue in Dayton because the building had more room to house both of the former stations. The FDBD continued to be a combination career and volunteer fire department. However, volunteer firefighters dwindled over the years due to more men and women working full time jobs elsewhere and family responsibilities, which left little time for volunteers to attend mandatory training sessions with FDBD career professional personnel.
Today, the FDBD continues to grow under the direction of Fire Chief Michael P. Auteri (2012-present) who was named Fire Chief after achieving 24 years of firefighting/EMT experience with the Dayton and Bellevue Fire Departments, as well as the FDBD. Under Chief Auteri’s direction, the department currently has 16 full-time career professional firefighting/EMS personnel, two reserve firefighters, one full-time administrative assistant, and one part-time Public Education Officer.