WEST MILTON — West Milton Fire Chief Denny Frantz recently retired after 50 years on the force.
Frantz, 70, began his career within the volunteer department in 1969, just months after graduating high school. He officially retired on Dec. 31, 2019, with 30 of his 50-year tenure having been spent as fire chief.
“My dad was a firefighter for 26 years, so I kind of grew up with it,” Frantz said.
Joe, Frantz’s father, served on the same fire department for 26 years.
Soon after graduation from high school, Frantz said he began working for the village of West Milton. At that time, he said, the age requirement to work as a volunteer firefighter in the village was 21.
“That changed when I was 19 and I was the first person to get on after the age limit was lowered,” he said.
Frantz said he had no interest in becoming either an officer or chief of the department, but in 1974, he was nominated and elected second lieutenant, followed the next year by an advancement to first lieutenant.
Frantz continued to swiftly rise in rank within the department.
“I became captain in 1976, and in 1984, I became assistant chief,” he said. “Then, it was in 1989 that I became chief.”
Though Frantz hadn’t initially had his sights set on the role of chief, he did have a personal tie to the position.
“My dad was chief and on the department for 26 years, so I guess I kind of took over,” Frantz said. “He became chief in ‘74, then retired in ‘85. When my dad retired, he gave the position to Devon Jay, and when Devon retired, I took over. Now I’m retired and David Jay, who is Devon’s son, is taking over for me. It’s kind of stayed in the two families for quite a while.”
Along with his job on the fire department, Frantz kept his village job as superintendent of maintenance, water and sewer for West Milton, retiring in 1999 after 30 years.
Having originally been born in Dayton, Frantz said he was raised in West Milton.
“I’ve always enjoyed the small town,” Frantz said. “I wouldn’t want to live in a big city; I prefer a small town where everybody knows everybody and everybody helps everybody. West Milton is a great community to live and work in.”
Frantz said he’s enjoyed his time as a volunteer firefighter for the department, although it came with its share of hard times.
“The hardest part of the job was watching the people whose house may be on fire and they’re losing everything that they’ve owned, and you’re trying your best to save what you can,” he said.
As with other public service jobs which involve putting oneself in harm’s way for the sake of another, Frantz acknowledges that many people view firefighters as heroic.
“We don’t consider ourselves heroes,” Frantz said. “We’re doing a job and don’t think twice about the dangers until maybe afterward. You just do what you’re trained to do.”
On the other side of the coin, Frantz said a plus of working on the fire department was that your colleagues are much more than that.
“The comradery with the other firemen and fire departments was the best part,” he said. “You hear the stories about firefighters being brothers and sisters, and it’s true. Everybody looks out for everybody else.”
Although Frantz retired from the fire department, he’s not done working yet.
“I’m actually still working full time with Ritter Plumbing,” he said. “I’ll do that for another year or so to keep myself busy.”
Even so, Frantz said he and his wife, Jan, will enjoy the extra time they have together.
“We’ll probably do a little bit more traveling, and we’re about to celebrate our 50th anniversary on May 23,” he said.
Frantz said he’s enjoying his time off, but still misses the department, his fellow firefighters and the job he’ll always love.
“It’s a little rough because I still get notified on my phone about calls that come in,” he said. “During the day when I’m around it’s a little worse than maybe at 2 o’clock in the morning and 20 below zero.”
Frantz said the choice to retire, while perhaps not the easiest one, was one he feels good about making.
“Times are changing and I just felt it was time to get some younger guys running it. I was chief for 30 years, and they say, you’ll know when it’s time,” he said. “I enjoyed it and could probably still do it, but it’s time to let somebody else be in charge and have their fun.”