PDT Staff Writer
Jon Peyton has been fighting fires in the South Webster and Bloom Township Fire District for 51 years, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Peyton joined the fire department in 1961 at the age of 18, along with his twin brother Jay. Wearing rubber raincoats, hip boots and helmets that looked like hard hats, Jon and Jay began fighting fires.
“When we started, we had a 1943 pumper/tanker; a 1945 tanker and a 1957 pumper,” Jon Peyton said. “The ‘57 Pumper and the ‘43 stayed underneath the city building. The other tanker stayed underneath Hanes Chevrolet in their basement. The city building up here was a fire station at the time. You got those two trucks out here and somebody went to Hanes (to get) the other truck. In the winter time you had to keep it empty, so you had to get it out and fill it because it was cold in that basement under the garage. We made around 36 fire runs a year. There was a time when we went six months and there was no fire run. Presently, we have nine pieces of equipment and we make 600 runs a year, fire and EMS together.”
Jon and his wife Karen began working for Detroit Steel Corporation in 1964, and they worked there until the plant closed in 1980. He then worked for two years for a mining company, then went to work for General Mills in Wellston in 1982, where he worked for 13 1/2 years on the midnight shift so that he could be free to make runs in the daytime for the fire department. He retired in 2006. Since 2006, Jon has worn out one set of turn-out gear and is working on another set.
“My wife and I have dedicated our lives to the fire department,” Peyton said. “She ran 27 years on the EMS service. She quit about six years ago for health reasons. She was dedicated. That was our life.”
When you think of someone who has worked on a fire department for 51 years, you may naturally think he must be someone who answers the phone, or goes to the scene and offers support. Nothing could be further from the truth where Jon Peyton is concerned.
“I still fight fires,” Peyton said. “We were on a structure fire Saturday night, with a breathing apparatus, crawling through a house, pulling ceilings, and all like that. I talked to a guy who had been on a fire department for 50 years, but had stopped fighting fires 10 years ago. He asked me - ‘can you remember the last time you had on a breathing apparatus and fought a fire?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He said, ‘how long ago was that?’ and I said, ‘two days ago.’”
In addition, he has trained most of the firefighters in the Jackson County area, except for the city department, but including Hamilton Township, Scioto Township, Liberty Township, Bloomfield and others.
Peyton never talks about his life as a firefighter without giving credit to the man who inspired him - Ken Bostick.
“Our parents were killed in a murder-suicide when we were 16-years-old. We moved in with our neighbors Lloyd and Florien Smith. They took us in,” Peyton said. “When we were 18, we moved back to our home place, joined the fire department and Ken was our father figure. He was very much on discipline. He ran the fire department that way too. We didn’t do anything wrong because we knew we had to answer to Ken. Ken not only was an influence on what we did on the fire department, but in our everyday life. We never drank; we never smoked; we didn’t do anything wrong because we knew we had to answer to Ken. First, we had the right upbringing from our parents. They laid the groundwork. Then when we came into the fire department, we knew we had to answer to Ken.”
Most people today don’t remember when funeral homes ran most of the ambulance service for the county and city, but Peyton remembers when most of the funeral homes gave up that business in 1972.
“On the midnight of the month that they quit, our firefighters went up and got Davis’ (Funeral Home) ambulance and brought it down here to the station. We leased it for a dollar a year,” Peyton said. “So on the midnight that they quit, we had an ambulance in our station. That was in the spring. In the fall of 1972 was when the first EMT class was held in Scioto County. It was taught by Ralph Scott out of Chillicothe. And I’m the only EMT from that first class that still runs.”
In addition to being a firefighter, Jon was a medic for 25 years. About four years ago, he decided to drop back down a level. However, Peyton still makes fire runs every day, every night, seven days a week.
“I feel as good as I have in six years,” Peyton said. “Physically, I have some pain, but as far as working, climbing, and crawling and all the stuff that I do, I do quite well. But I feel good. I’m strong. I think, why slow down? If I stop, I might slow down too much. My passion to fight fires is still the same, so I’m going to keep going.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com