DAYTON — Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for 23 years, Charlie Linhart remained on call with the Dayton Volunteer Fire Department. Now, Linhart basks in the liberation of unplugging the radios for the last time.
“I think I slept like a baby that first night,” Linhart said.
Linhart took off his fire chief hat and passed it along to Rick Bilodeau, who will lead the group of 16 volunteers when the pagers sound again.
Linhart remembered Dan Dowdy as the man responsible for encouraging him to start with the fire department in the first place. Dowdy, who leased a shop to Linhart at the time, realized Linhart’s roots were growing deeper into the soils of the Dayton community and proposed he join the department. Linhart agreed, and 11 years later, he grabbed the chief’s hat from Eric Lofgren and took his post for another 12 years.
Linhart recounted his most memorable moment with the department as a time even before he became chief. The department evacuated the entire town of Dayton after winds tore through the Tongue River Valley and caused a simple toss out of stove ashes to consume acres. The most surprising element of the fire, Linhart remembered, was the out-of-season timing.
“We were fighting fire all night, and by morning there was snow on the ground,” Linhart said.
Other rewarding memories during his 23 years came in times when he and his crew saved someone’s home.
“It makes it worthwhile,” Linhart said.
When describing his duties as chief, Linhart said it only varies from the regular volunteer firefighter position in that he attended a few extra meetings each month and took responsibility for making sure everyone’s trainings were up to date. Holding a special passion for his squad, Linhart kept focus on safety.
“Safety’s easily the biggest concern,” Linhart said. “The last thing you want to see is anybody get hurt.”
Even with the added responsibilities, Linhart had no complaints about his time served.
“It’s been great,” Linhart said. “I’ve got a great fire department and the support of our town and the district members. It makes my job really easy.”
Linhart, a quiet, yet confident leader, credited his coworkers and town counterparts for the success he found during his tenure with the department.
“The people that are on the department with me,” Linhart said, “I have to give them some recognition because I couldn’t make my job successful without those people.”
Likewise, Lofgren expressed his appreciation for Linhart’s success in carrying on the tradition of excellence within the department.
“You’re an inspiration to us all,” Lofgren said to Linhart during a ceremony honoring Linhart on Jan. 8 at Dayton Town Hall.
Mayor Norm Anderson echoed the sentiments, saying it was nice working with Linhart and he did a good job during his time.
Now, Linhart will drift into a deeper sleep each night, free from the scratchy, loud radio interruptions to which he had grown so accustomed.