In his 35 years with the Jackson Township Fire Department, Rick Dawson went from serving as a volunteer firefighter to chief.

In his 35 years with the Jackson Township Fire Department, Rick Dawson went from serving as a volunteer firefighter to chief.

Dawson, 60, will retire at the end of the month. He has served as chief since April 2014.

It has been an amazing journey, he said, especially considering he never planned to be a firefighter.

With a degree in horticultural science from the Ohio State University, Dawson was working in that field in 1980, but an economic downtown left him looking for other career options.

"A friend had signed me up to take the test for the Columbus fire academy and I did really well and was all set to start when they canceled the course," Dawson said.

He decided to volunteer with the township fire department to find out if he liked firefighting.

"I realized I had found my calling," Dawson said. "It just felt really good being able to help people and make a difference in the community."

Two years later, he was offered a full-time firefighting position with the township, the same day Columbus also offered him a job.

"I decided I wanted to stay in my own community and help people here," he said.

A personal incident helped lead him to a firefighting career, Dawson said.

"Shortly before I started as a volunteer, I was taking my mother to the hospital. She was having a heart attack," he said. "On the way she went into cardiac arrest and I felt so helpless not being able to do anything to help her. She died about three weeks later."

Later, as a trained firefighter, Dawson was able to resuscitate his first patient suffering a cardiac arrest.

"It was such a feeling of empowerment," he said. "After he recovered, the guy came to the station to thank us. That's the kind of thing that stays with you forever."

Firefighters see a lot -- some good things and some tragic, Dawson said.

"We may appear callous, but that's the only way we can do our job," he said. "It's just a front -- we all have a soft heart. I've seen a lot of guys come back from the scene of a fire or car crash and cry.

"It's easy to teach people how to fight fires and perform EMS. What makes a good firefighter is whether you have caring and compassion in your heart."

As chief, Dawson helped earn a federal stimulus grant for the construction of the new fire station on Buckeye Parkway and helped lead the effort to gain approval of a 3.75-mill fire levy in 2014, the first fire levy in 23 years.

"It's allowing us to make some major repairs and improvements to our older fire stations," he said. "We're fortunate to be in a tremendous community that supports its fire department. It's a special place to work."

Dawson's leadership has been valuable, said Dave Burris, chairman of the Jackson Township trustees.

"Rick's been a dedicated chief. He took over when we were going through some hard times and led with enthusiasm," Burris said. "He loves Grove City and that showed in the way he performed his duties."

Dawson said he will miss serving the community.

"When you're serving a small town like this, you're helping your neighbors, people you know," he said.

Most of all, he said, he will miss the camaraderie of his colleagues at the fire station.

"We live and work together. It becomes a family," Dawson said. "When you're chief, you worry every time your guys go out on a run, hoping they'll be safe.

"I'm sure I'll still have that feeling, even after I'm retired."

Everything else about retirement is uncertain, Dawson said.

"It's like you're reading a book," he said. "You finish up one chapter and turn the page and start another chapter. I don't know what's going to happen in this next chapter."