What started as a co-op opportunity for Gregg Bayer at Eastern Kentucky University in the 1980s became a lifetime of serving the public as a firefighter and now as the new chief of the Georgetown Fire Department.
Bayer succeeds the retiring John Ward, and joins the department after working 22 years for the Lexington Fire Department before retiring in 2017. He also worked for Richmond, the University of Kentucky and Winchester as a paramedic, flight paramedic and firefighter.
“I am a public servant and loved fighting fires and helping people. I still do,” he said.
When he retired, Bayer said, “I never had the intention of completely getting out of the fire service. There were opportunities for other fire chief positions in good fire departments, but Scott County and Georgetown is home. This is where we raised our kids and where our friends are. We didn’t want to move anyplace else.”
Opportunity came when the Georgetown fire chief position came open.
“When this position came open, I saw it as an opportunity to serve my community,” he said. “This is an extraordinary department, and that’s what initially drew me to it. I didn’t want to go to a department riddled with problems. It is a well-led, well-managed and well-supported department.”
Bayer said his challenge is how to take an exceptional department and move it forward.
“I’ve had the opportunity to address each shift. That’s one of the first things I wanted to do was address the troops,” he said. “Right now, I am getting a good grasp of how we manage personnel, how we hire, respond, purchase things and move equipment from one place to another. Based on that, I’ll look at a strategic process and the strengths and weaknesses and how that fits into the city plan and develop plans for the fire department.”
Taking advantage of opportunities to learn and grow is nothing new for Bayer, learning that lesson early from his parents, both educators in the Chicago Public Schools. His dad was a principal and his mom was a science teacher.
“My father was a soft-spoken but very principled person, and he didn’t budge from his beliefs. From him I learned dedication and commitment. My mom was a problem solver. I got that from her,” he said. “My mom passed away from cancer, but my dad lives here now and I talk to him every morning and try to see him every week.”
At EKU, he lived at Station 3 across from Roy Kidd Stadium. He went to class and worked his assigned shift. He later became an EMT and worked up the ladder to become a paramedic while working part time for the ambulance service.
“That gave me a good foundation and set the tone for the rest of my career,” Bayer said. “I learned compassion, patient care and a can-do attitude.”
When he graduated, his dream was to work for the Chicago Fire Department. But the hiring process was long, and Bayer said it would be 10-20 years before he got on. So his parents suggested he move back to Kentucky if he thought he could get a job there.
He returned to Richmond, and ultimately ended up working for the Winchester Fire Department and the Clark County Ambulance Service where he continued to learn and grow.
“There was an old engineer in Winchester who knew his truck like anything,” Bayer said. “He looked at me and told me if I remembered three things I would be successful: Do your job, know your job and be on time. It didn’t mean much back then, but it has meant a lifelong dedication to becoming the best firefighter, leader and manager I could be.”
He then moved on to the University of Kentucky where he became a flight paramedic when there was only five or six helicopter services in the state. He later joined the Lexington Fire Department where he worked on the ambulance, emergency care unit, truck company and served as battalion chief.
That is where he started learning the value of building relationships.
“Lexington Fire Chief Robert Hendricks said the most important thing I could do is develop relationships,” Bayer said.
“I took that to heart. Developing them internally, like streets and roads; then outside like emergency management and homeland security.
“I was in the fire service before 9/11 and after 9/11. Fire service took a drastic change after 9/11. I never thought I would be sitting down with the FBI and Homeland Security discussing threats to the community. But it widened my horizon and scope of my knowledge base.”
Bayer, who has been married for 32 years to Melissa and has two children, Matthew and Rebecca, and a granddaughter, continued to look for opportunities to serve the public after he retired. He was appointed to the state emergency response commission and is president of the Kentucky Association of Fire Chiefs. He asked Stamping Ground if he could help them as well.
“They welcomed me with open arms and I ended up being their training officer,” he said.
“It is a way for me to pass on my experience to a younger generation and mentor them.”
Now he is learning where he can support and help the Georgetown Fire Department. He expects with the continued growth that at some point, there will be a need to look at new facilities, personnel and apparatus while also being good stewards. When he was hired, Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather said his and Bayer’s goal was to make sure he was the last chief hired from outside.
Bayer takes command of a young unit. The average length of service is 7.9 years.
“I would like to have a pathway established that gives anyone who comes in as a recruit firefighter to have a diverse background that qualifies them to sit in this chair. That is personnel development and our biggest asset is our personnel,” he said.
“I want to invest in this fire department in the development of our personnel because we can have million dollar fire stations, trucks and computer systems but if you can’t develop personnel or value personnel, all of that money and effort is for nothing.
“I am people driven and my attitude coming to work is what can I do today to make it better and bringing value to the organization. What can I do in my office to make life better for the citizens of Georgetown and part of that is make it better for our firefighters.”
Steve McClain can be reached at email@example.com.