By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — — For years, children and adults in the community have seen Mt. Vernon Fire Department Lt. Donny Hayes speaking about fire safety and public safety.
Friday, Hayes retired after 21 years with the MVFD. He will still be looking out for the citizens of the community — becoming a telecommunicator for the city.
"I wanted to spend the rest of my days working in a position that is not as physically demanding," Hayes said.
When Hayes first started with the department, he was a firefighter/paramedic. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2004, and took a position in the fire prevention office, spearheading public education; he also became the lead firefighter training officer and building inspection. In 2007, he also became lead paramedic on the department.
"It's bittersweet," said Assistant Chief Kevin Sargent of Hayes' retirement. "This community is a much safer place because of Donny Hayes and the time he has spent with children, parents and grandparents in educating them — not only in fire prevention and public safety, but in life."
Hayes said he will miss getting out in public and the children he has taught through programs such as Operation Lifesaver, Risk Watch and Fire Prevention Week activities.
"One thing I will miss is the kids coming up to me, like in Wal-Mart, saying, 'Hey, you were at my school,'" Hayes said.
In his years in fire service, Hayes has served under four fire chiefs and worked with numerous other firefighters.
"I will miss the guys I work with and the guys I have worked with," Hayes said.
MVFD Chief Jim Brown said he will also miss Hayes.
"In the time I've been on the department, no one I can recall has been as good of a PR person as Donny Hayes," Brown said. "We will miss him, but also he will be missed in the schools."
Capt. John Griffin said Hayes departure will mean a change.
"Whoever takes Donny's place will have big shoes to fill," Griffin said. "He has developed a great public education program. It's not just the people in Mt. Vernon, but he travels to other communities as well."
Hayes said working with the police department as a telecommunicator will allow him to continue to help the community he has come to love. This is not the first time Hayes has dispatched emergency response — in his early days on the fire department, the fire department dispatched their own emergency calls.
"I know how the fire department operates and responds to calls," Hayes said. "I hope to be able to use that knowledge to do my next job well."
Sargent said Hayes will be missed and be an asset to the telecommunications of the city.
"When Donny Hayes says he's going to do something, he does it and he does it better than you could ever imagine," Sargent said. "I'm happy that in his retirement, he's chosen to continue helping people and his department by being a telecommunicator because I know when I lay my head down at night he's watching out for our firefighters and he's watching out for our community. It takes a heck of a firefighter and a man to recognize when your career as a firefighter is done and you can pick up another job and continue helping people. I don't have enough words to express the gratitude I have for Donny Hayes and his commitment to this department."
Sargent, who worked alongside Hayes in public education at MVFD prior to becoming assistant chief, said Hayes taught him a lot.
"He's taught me how to destroy a stapler — he'll laugh about that," Sargent said. "But seriously, he's taught me a lot about patience; he's taught me that no matter what you do, put your heart and soul into it."