Bennett said when he was approached, he had several questions, including expectations of managing the city on an interim basis, not unlike the questions he had of city leaders in 1984 when he took on the fire chief’s job.
“One of the reasons I decided to accept the additional responsibilities was the fact that I realized there was a very strong support mechanism from the elected officials down through the department heads,” Bennett said. “That gave me some reassurance.”
At the time of his appointment, city officials said they looked to Bennett for his leadership and knowledge of the city.
Bennett starts his workday at 8 a.m. at the fire headquarters on Nilles Road, meeting with his two deputy chiefs and the department’s code enforcement officer. Over coffee, they exchange their thoughts over the last 24 hours and talk about what’s to come for the day, which he says is “a good way to start the day and interact with the administrative staff and get a feel of what’s going on.”
“I jokingly, when I walk out, tell everybody I’m going to my other job,” he said. It’s the same thing Bennett tells the administration and front-office staff at the municipal building when he heads to the fire department.
“To say it is beyond busy will be an understatement, but it is a very welcome kind of busy,” said Bennett.
“I still try to maintain all the responsibilities with the fire chief’s position, not to overload the deputies because I’ve chosen to take on this acting role, but it’s been very educational for me.”
Bennett’s management style is hands-off, allowing those he leads to do their jobs.
“They are professional people, they know what they’re doing, and I’m here if they need help,” he said. “I made it perfectly clear from the onset and what makes this a tenable situation is the fact they are doing very good work and they have been very supportive.”
Bennett has been a steadfast figure in the city, serving six city managers, and soon a seventh. That hiring process could take be a six to eight-month. And that longevity has made him beloved by many in the city ― residents, staff and elected officials alike.
Fairfield resident Sherry Flaker honored Bennett during a recent City Council meeting.
“I want to honor you because you are just so much more than a man in this city,” said Flaker, addressing the council for several minutes. “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. And this city owes you a great deal of gratitude.”
After her time, Vice Mayor Leslie Besl told Flaker, “We all agree with you. He is an amazing human being and we have been so blessed to have him with us for so many years.”
Feb. 20, 1970: Don Bennett begins his career in the fire service Dunlap Fire Department in Hamilton County
April 2, 1984: Fairfield hires Don Bennett to be the city’s first full-time fire chief
1994: Bennett received the Ohio Service Valor Award
2005: Fairfield Community Foundation’s Firefighter of the Year
Dec. 11, 2020: Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett named acting city manager while still serving as fire chief
Currently: Bennett is the President and Director of the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials Unit