Longtime John Day Fire Chief Ron Smith has retired — again.
John Day City Mayor Ron Lundbom gave an award to Smith for his 15 years of service in the John Day Fire Department at the Oct. 22 city council meeting.
“I have the honor tonight to present our fire chief with a going away gift,” Lundbom said. “I couldn’t be more proud to recognize somebody that has been dedicated his whole career.”
Smith was the deputy fire chief from 2004 to 2009, and a fire chief from 2009 to the end of October 2019. Smith retired from Sandy as the fire chief after 27 years of service before coming to John Day.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to get to do what I’ve done, and it’s been a hoot,” Smith said. “Just remember, I’m one small cog in a wheel. Your volunteer firefighters are the ones that make this place work. I just get to watch them shine and have me look good.”
In over 40 years of experience, Smith has had the opportunity to deliver five babies in Sandy, be in charge of the rope technical team in Sandy and work with the all volunteer fire department in John Day.
“Working with volunteer firefighters is truly amazing because of the amount of dedication that they have,” Smith said. “Volunteer firefighters face the exact same threat that paid firefighters do. When you go into a burning building you’re never truly guaranteed the outcome of that.”
Every day varied as the fire chief in John Day. Some days he was in his office working on paperwork or tending to calls received from the dispatch center, but no matter what came up, Smith made sure that he was prepared.
“I guess there’s really no such thing in my life as unexpected,” Smith said. “Somebody calls dispatch 9-1-1, we get the initial information, and at that time I leave the house going into a call, I start to run possible scenarios through my brain. If it’s a house fire, what time of day is it? If it’s three in the morning people are usually asleep, if its three in the afternoon people are usually up. What if the house next door catches on fire? You just start running all of these what if questions.”
This mindset helped Smith be prepared for any situation, even if there was no fire to extinguish.
As chief, Smith prioritized firefighter safety, which is something his career is based on. During his time as chief he has never had a firefighter seriously hurt.
“Having somebody die under my watch, under my direction, I don’t know how someone can live with that,” Smith said. “If a house burns down, most everything there can be replaced. If somebody dies in a fire, you can’t replace that.”
Smith said he is not planning to move away from John Day and that retirement will give him a chance to do more fishing.
“Overall, this has been the greatest job in the world. It’s not so much that any one job is better than the other one. After years and years you get to have all the memories to look back on,” Smith said.
Don Gabbard, the current assistant chief, will become the next fire chief when Smith retires.
“If I was walking away with nobody to take my place, I probably would have stayed chief another two or three years,” Smith said. “I can’t walk away from my community leaving the department without the leadership that it needs, but Don is great at all of it.”