Bazetta fire chief douses career after 39 years
BAZETTA — After an almost 39-year fighting career that began as a junior firefighter and ended as a fire chief for 12 years, Dennis Lewis is retiring from public office.
His last official work day was Friday.
Lewis, who has seen many changes throughout his career, including the opening of a new fire department building near Mosquito Lake State Park, said he will miss serving the Bazetta community in which he grew up.
On Jan. 4, 1983, at age 15, Lewis joined the Bazetta Fire Department as a junior firefighter while still attending Lakeview High School.
“As a junior or cadet you could become part of the fire department and still be in school. From 1983 to 1987, the Bazetta Fire Department had more than 20 junior firefighters all under age 18. It was a great program to be part of,” Lewis said.
Lewis said junior firefighters were not allowed to drive firetrucks but could go out to fires in second vehicles with a certified firefighter. Lewis said he became an emergency medical technician in high school, which since has changed and now requires a person be 18 and out of school to get certified.
He said junior firefighters wrapped up the fire hose and washed trucks but could not fight fires.
He is a second-generation firefighter as his father, Robert Lewis, now retired, was chief from 1978 to 2003.
Lewis said he originally wanted to be a math teacher until he went on a fire call as a junior firefighter and lost a classmate in a vehicle crash.
“That changed me to want to stay in firefighting to see what I could do to help and protect people who can’t help themselves,” he said, noting he attended the Trumbull County Joint Vocational School fire safety program.
He took training at the career center and also EMT training in Weathersfield with instructor Randy Pugh, who had served as chief there.
After six years as a junior firefighter, Lewis became a firefighter at age 22 in 1989 and spent the next 32 years with the department.
After being a junior firefighter, Lewis became a firefighter / engineer, and then a lieutenant / EMT.
He also spent time in the Army National Guard during the Gulf War from late 1990 to fall 1991. He joined the National Guard in 1985 to help pay for college and received a degree in fire science from the University of Akron. He also is a graduate of the Ohio Fire Executive Program – Class 11.
Lewis became a fire captain / paramedic in 1992 and was named chief in October 2009. He also has extensive experience in teaching fire behavior.
Lewis said he had many great memories with the fire stations’ staff.
He said he is proud of the fact he saw the new fire department building open in 2017.
Lewis said plans were to have one central location for the fire station as opposed to the two previous ones with one by the fairgrounds and the other by the police department.
“With the central location, we could protect the community better by reducing response times. This station 95 percent of the time is staffed with three personnel and 90 percent by four,” he said.
Lewis said the department was fortunate to have been selected to receive a beam from one of the World Trade Center buildings for display in a 9/11 memorial at the front of the station.
“We were honored to receive it and now display it. It is a very respectful display that remembers the 343 firefighters lost that day,” he said.
In recent years, Lewis was active with the local COVID-19 team of fire chiefs serving as logistics officers finding needed supplies and purchasing items for fire departments, nursing homes, hospitals and other local agencies. He was able to get $134,000 grant for masks and gowns for fire department.
He also remembers the January 2019 tornado over Mosquito Lake.
“We were here at the station at a paramedic refresher class and looked across the lake and saw how nasty and dark the sky looked. The road department called us and said the maintenance building blew over. The alarms went off on the west side of Bazetta of trees and wires down. We were lucky everyone was here at the station to handle both sides of the lake,” Lewis said.
He said it was a long day that ended with no deaths or injuries, just damage.
Other natural disasters Lewis witnessed were the May 31, 1985, tornado, which occurred during his senior year in high school, and the major flooding in summer 2003.
“I have seen many things in my career. The cat in a tree calls we would advise people to put a can of food at the bottom of the tree to help get the cat down,” he said.
Lewis said he always will remember the fun times, such as the Halloween patrol in the neighborhoods and talking to the children while handing out candy and the Optimist Club fun day for children with special needs.
“I am proud that all my firefighters got to go home. I am proud to have served the Bazetta community,” he said.
With retirement. Lewis has leased the nine-hole Links by the Tracks Golf Course, where he will work, and also started Excelerant Communications for grant writing and consulting with his daughter, Melaina.
He also will spend more time with his wife, Tracy, he said.