Bobby Dutton has been with the Columbus Fire and EMS Department for 38 and a half years.
He has seen many changes.
When he started firefighters didn’t wear breathing apparatus while knocking down a fire. And they rode on the back of trucks.
Thursday was his last day on the job.
And he spent part of it taking steaks to the four firehouses under his field command.
It was a symbolic gesture.
“I always felt like when the crew sat down to eat, that’s when you formed a bond,” he told the firefighters at Whitesville road. “Today, I wanted one of your meals to be on me.”
Dutton made the same speech at each stop as he delivered lunch, freshly cut ribeyes.
He thanked the firefighters for their service. And he told them if he was tough on them it was because there is no margin for error in the job.
It can be the difference in life or death.
Dutton says you got to love being a firefighter to do it for nearly four decades.
“Anybody can do the job and hang around,” he said. “But to do it right, you got to love this job. It’s got to be part of your life. For most firefighters it is. It is something that gets in your blood.”
In addition to his firefighting duties, Dutton served as the Homeland Security Director about a decade ago.
Dutton was a vocal leader in the fire department, taking on mayors and chiefs over the years.
Early in his career, Dutton worked against former Mayor James Jernigan in a campaign. Jernigan was elected and Dutton said he delivered a pointed message the day after the vote.
He summoned Dutton to his campaign headquarters.
“He pulled a chair up and said I am going to squash you like a bug,” Dutton remembers.
The mayor said that Dutton had violated a city regulation that prohibited political activity by a city employee.
Dutton went and got a copy of the city charter and it said “certain” city employees were prohibited from political activity. Dutton then asked the mayor what certain meant.
The matter got dropped.
“It was one of those things where you did not intend to make someone mad,” Dutton said, “but they just took it personal.”