Rick Dawson didn't originally plan on becoming head of a fire department.

Rick Dawson didn't originally plan on becoming head of a fire department.

In fact, he hadn't even planned on becoming a firefighter.

"I graduated from Ohio State (University) with a background in horticulture," Dawson said.

As of April 23, Dawson, 59, is acting fire chief of the Jackson Township Fire Division, following a request by previous Chief Lloyd Sheets for a voluntary demotion to battalion chief.

Sheets, who had been chief since 2006, wrote a letter to the township stating he wanted to finish his career taking runs and working on a unit. Before his promotion to acting chief, Dawson was deputy chief.

After graduating from OSU with his horticulture degree, Dawson said there weren't any jobs available with the economy in the midst of a recession. Then, a friend of his since kindergarten, Karry Ellis, who today is assistant chief with the Columbus Division of Fire, signed Dawson to take the firefighter test, and he passed it.

While a position at Columbus Fire didn't materialize for Dawson, there was an option closer to home. Dawson has been a Grove City resident since his family moved to the area from southeast Columbus when he was in sixth grade.

"I lived here and figured I'd at least see if I could sign up as a volunteer," Dawson said. "I made a career out of it."

That was in 1980. By 1982, Dawson had been hired by the department as a full-time firefighter.

"It was never a career plan, but it all turned out quite well," he said. "You have an opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives."

Of course, there are other benefits to being a firefighter, including the camaraderie among the personnel in the firehouse, Dawson said.

"I'm an action-oriented person," Dawson said. "It's like going to King's Island and being paid to be there. ... I think everyone who comes here wants to ride the trucks, blow the horns and do the fun stuff."

Fire service, Dawson said, is always changing as a result of new technology, needs and challenges.

Twenty-five years ago, Dawson said, terrorism wasn't considered, but today, it's a threat fire departments have to be prepared for.

"The fire department has always been a dynamic organization because the needs of our customers are always evolving," he said. "It's different today. It'll be different tomorrow."

Dawson's promotion comes as the Jackson Township opens Fire Station 204 at 4900 Buckeye Parkway, which Dawson said will allow the department to more effectively deliver service in the community.

"It improves the safety of the community," he said. "We've been waiting for this for a long time."

Dawson lives in Grove City with his wife, Amy. They have two daughters, Abby, a freshman at Otterbein University, and Emily, a junior at Grove City High School.

A promotion ceremony for Dawson and three fire techs being promoted to full-time positions is scheduled May 20, at the Jackson Township Board of Trustees meeting at 3756 Hoover Road.