Dexter Area Fire Chief says it truly was 'always a team effort'


DAFD Fire Chief Robert Smith. photo courtesy of the Dexter Area Fire Department

In looking back at his time as Fire Chief for the Dexter Area Fire Department, Robert Smith said many things stand out to him that have helped move the department forward in the right direction.

The Sun Times News (STN) recently reached out to him to look back at his time with the DAFD, as he will retire on July 1.

STN asked him what he thinks are some of the accomplishments during his time in Dexter, which began in 2015.

Here are some that he listed:

“We opened 2 new facilities in Webster and Dexter Townships.”
“We made significant Capital Improvements by replacing 2 Engines and 3 Squads.”
“We established Capital Saving Accounts that did not exist prior to 2015.”
“We increased budgeting to bring the department closer to meeting National and State Standards.”
“We increased staffing by adding 3 full-time firefighters and an Administrative Assistant.”
“Obtained over $500,000 in Grant funding for the department.”

One word stands out in this list and that is “we.”

That played a big part for him, the team effort between himself, the Dexter Area Fire Board, the Firefighters and the community.

The DAFD is a unique partnership between the city of Dexter, Dexter Township and Webster Township. All three have representatives on the fire board.

In his retirement letter to the fire board, Smith said, “I want to thank you all for the tremendous support you have shown over the last 6 plus years. We, meaning the Fire Board, Firefighters, and myself, have made many improvements over the years. It truly is always a team effort. I have often said that a Fire Chief is only as effective as those who work around them.”

This sentiment was echoed by Dexter Township Supervisor Diane Ratkovich.

“I want to recognize Chief Smith's contributions to the DAFD,” she said. “He created a forward thinking spending plan that balances addressing today’s needs in the community and with the firefighters as well as a vision for the future. He is a fantastic leader, willing to educate and an approachable man, always willing to lend a hand. He will be deeply missed.”

She said an Open House in recognition of Smith's service is being planned for August.

Dexter Mayor Shawn Keough said, “Chief Smith did a great job leading our department forward. He brought a whole new level of organization to our team and helped us prepare well for our future. I would like to thank Chief Smith for all his hard work and his commitment to the fire and rescue service. I wish him all the best in his retirement.”

In looking back, STN asked Smith what were his goals when he began and whether or not they were accomplished.

“When I was hired, the Dexter Area Fire Board suspected that the department was very underfunded and needed improvements in many areas,” he answered. “My goal was to bring the department into compliance with recognized standards. This included implementing record keeping processes, efficient budgeting processes, implementing modern fire and EMS response practices and elevating the department to a high level of professionalism to name a few. I believe that we have done that. But those items are always in a state of flux with continuous improvement opportunities always arising.”

So the department has changed to fit the needs of the community. Smith said they have evolved in their Operations and Training, where they have made tremendous improvements to meet recognized standards and practices.

STN asked him how he feels about leaving now and where the department is at:

“I really never thought about life outside of the Fire Service,” he said. “After 42 years, it just kind of made sense to do something different. Honestly, after the last two years dealing with COVID-related issues I'm ready to move on. I think the department is in great standing as reflected in the Annual Reports that I provide the Fire Board. I do have concerns for the future of the Fire Service though. Obviously the economic situation is going to make it very difficult to just maintain current levels of service, but there are some lesser known concerns that will have profound impacts on service delivery. For instance, getting apparatus and equipment maintenance and repairs in a timely manner has become a challenge due to supply chain issues, purchasing new fire trucks are two year process and long term employees are more difficult to find.”

As to who will be replacing him, the fire board does not have a successor identified yet. While they are working through the process, Smith said the Assistant Chiefs (Doug Armstrong and Stephen Gaggi) will be managing the department's affairs.

And as to what’s next for Smith, he says, “I don't have a specific plans, but I can't see myself not doing some kind of gainful work. I definitely will increase family time.”

Smith’s letter to the fire board ends with, “Finally, I simply want to say thank you for allowing me to Lead and Manage the Dexter Area Fire Department. I hope I have lived up to your expectation when I was hired. I wish you all well and continued success.”

photo courtesy of the Dexter Area Fire Department
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