Fairfield to name fire department HQ after its former chief

Former Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett maintained his composure last month during an hours-long reception honoring his nearly four-decade-long tenure leading the department.

On Monday night, though, not so much.

“There is no greater honor than what I see here,” said Bennett after City Council unveiled that the fire headquarters building on Nilles Road he helped build will be named in his honor. “I have worked with and for many wonderful people, two of which led me to the position of the fire chief of the city of Fairfield.”

Fire headquarters, also known as Station 31, was dedicated in May 1990, some six years into what would be Bennett’s 38-year tenure as fire chief, replacing the old station that was at Patterson Boulevard and Pleasant Avenue.

Bennett, who had been in the fire service for 52 years, retired on Aug. 12, though he debated exiting in April but waited. He wanted to see the 9.25-mill replacement fire levy pass, which it did in May by a two-thirds margin, but also implement the plan to transition the combination fire department into a professional department. The transition in converting the 36 part-time positions into 18 full-time positions has begun.

“I can’t say enough to the citizens of this community to grant us passage of this levy by such a percentage in such questionable economic times. It speaks volumes to the men and women of the Fairfield Fire Department and what they do daily,” Bennett said. “They do decent and professional work every minute they’re on duty, and that made my job significantly easier.”

Vice Mayor Tim Meyer presented the proclamation which named the fire headquarters for Bennett. After the presentation, he said the stories of Bennett’s good-guy reputation “are abundant,” and not just among peers and colleagues but among the residents.

“Just the service that you provided, the professionalism, the personal touch that you’ve given residents through the years ― you are every bit, and I’m going to use the word legend, you are every bit a legend,” Meyer said. “And most importantly, you are respected throughout the state, multiple states, for your demeanor, your professionalism, the way you did business, and most importantly, the way you cared.”

Bennett appreciated the honor because he doesn’t recall any building being named for a former employee that’s still alive. He does shrug off all of the praise he’s received because, for him, “All I did was my job.”

“That’s all I did for 38 years. I did my job, I did it the way I thought it should have been done,” he said. “Many times, I would not accept ‘no’ for an answer and kept trucking forward. There were delays, but I never lost sight of what this community needed, and that’s what I did.”

That job also included an 18-month period where Bennett served as both fire chief and acting city manager for the city.

During the Jan. 25, 2021, City Council meeting, a Fairfield resident echoed what many see in Bennett.

“[Y]ou are just so much more than a man in this city,” said Sherry Flaker, recognizing the then-chief for his kindness during a difficult time in her family. “You are a hero. My kids have someone they can look up to, my grandchildren have someone they can look up to. You just don’t speak your words, you live them.”

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