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Dayton Fire Department new chief explains expanded 'social service' mission

This picture shows the City of Dayton Fire Department's new Director and Chief, Mike Rice.
Dayton Fire Department
City of Dayton Fire Department Director and Chief Mike Rice

A long-serving member of the Dayton Fire Department was recently sworn-in as its new director and chief. Mike Rice is a 23-year veteran with the Fire Department and in this interview with WYSO’s Jerry Kenney he says, while the department is still - first and foremost - fighting fires, their mission has grown.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Mike Rice: We work closely with police. We have a program called GROW, which is Get Recovery Options Working, where we have one of our EMS personnel teamed up with a police officer, and their full time job is trying to get in touch with people that are working through addiction issues and again, trying to get them into programs that can help.

They also team up with our community engagement teams out of Planning and Neighborhood Development. Again, just trying to get people connected with the services they need.

Just recently, right before a really big cold snap, they were going out to areas where we know that people are staying and they're not in shelters just to try to get them the information, to get them into a shelter, let them know, you know, the cold weather is coming up, it's going to be tough to stay out here.

And maybe if they don't want to go, it's handing them some hats, gloves, blankets, trying to make that connection. I certainly think that's a big part of what we need to do in the fire department.

Of course, our primary mission is to protect and save lives, property and the environment. But then it's also, again, the community risk reduction and how do we reduce risk?

Sometimes it's just getting people in touch with the right services. Certainly, we reduce risk by going out and doing smoke and CO-detector campaigns into houses. That's one way. But I think we find there's a bigger need, in an area that we can impact in. And certainly that's one of our charges.

Jerry Kenney: You know, all this happens with funding. How are you facing that challenge these days? Are you able to meet your needs? Give us your perspective on the situation for the Dayton Fire Department.

Rice: There's probably not a fire chief in the country that wouldn't say they'd like to have a little money, but I think we're we're well funded.

We actually had some really good gains this last year in our capital funding, where we were able to buy, three new fire engines and a new ladder truck, as well as two new medic units.

So we were really well funded in that area, and in fact, the city administration increased our funding so we could put an additional engine in service this year. Engine 10, went in service on January 1st, which is a huge gain and help.

But where I think the challenges and where we need to challenge ourselves is leveraging the outside funding. There are plenty of grants out there, and we've been doing really good, specifically in the FEMA Assistance for Firefighter Grant. We've been awarded grants, each of the last three years, and that's a very competitive grant process. And we're going to continue that and look for other ways to leverage that outside funding, because we feel we need additional funding.

It can't always be going back and getting money from a general fund. It's looking for these other opportunities and that's where we're going to continue to do. And that's one area, when we do these programs like community medicine and the GROW program, we really leverage opportunities for funding there so we can have the resources to buy the things that the underserved population needs and get them those items.

Kenney: Final comments on your new role as fire chief and how you'll be directing operations?

Rice: Absolutely. You know, first and foremost, we want to provide top notch fire, EMS, rescue, risk reduction services to the community. And that is something that we are going to continue to do and continue to get better at.

But I also want our department to challenge themselves to do those services with a great customer service attitude. And that's really a big thing for us is, we routinely in the annual survey to the citizens get pretty high ratings of the fire department but I don't ever want to stop, getting better. I don't want to ever plateau. And we're also going to continue, you know, this great work in community risk reduction, because if we can prevent these incidents from happening, then we're going to prevent a bad day for a citizen or a visitor in the city of Dayton, and that's certainly what we want.

But any time there is a need and, we're called, we're going to come do the absolute best job we can, and we're going to look for ways to be better, to serve the community. So when they call, they know that they're getting services from one of the best fire departments in the country.

Kenney: We've been speaking with director and chief of the Dayton Fire Department, Mike Rice. Congratulations on the new job and thanks for your time today.

Rice: Thank you very much.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.