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In his early-20s, some days Dave Allmon just wanted to bang his head on the ice machine. As part-owner of a root beer stand in Elwood, about 30 miles northwest of his hometown of Muncie, he struggled to keep the business afloat.
“There was always turnover,” he said.
A few years later in a different environment, Allmon described himself as a “very bad salesman” for the United Consumers Club. It was not a surprise when he lost his job.
After moving to Columbus in 1977, Allmon worked at local gas stations before stumbling upon work at the Columbus Fire Department. His father-in-law owned a painting business and worked with several firemen, who eventually helped get Allmon into the department in 1982.
While firefighting in Columbus, he battled blazes for nearly 30 years before retiring two years ago and settling into a role as president of the local firefighter’s union.
Believing his career as a firefighter was behind him, he was quickly pulled back in as Mayor Kristen Brown this past week selected Allmon, 60, to become the next Columbus fire chief. It was a position he’d applied for two times — first about 16 years ago, and then earlier this year. The third time, the city reached out to him after Fire Chief Joel Thacker announced he would step down effective Sept. 17.
Shortly after Thacker submitted his resignation Aug. 30, Brown was on the phone, and Allmon learned he was on the top of her list. Additionally, former State Fire Marshal Roger Johnson was chosen to be Allmon’s emergency management consultant, with best-practice experience in all firefighting disciplines.”
“(The firefighters) have a tremendous amount of respect for him and believed (Allmon) would progress the department in ways they wanted the department to progress, like more training access for all disciplines,” Brown said.
From talking to firefighters, the mayor believed Allmon would be fair, and promotions would not be based on personal favoritism.
“He has good leadership skills,” she said.
He’s also a live wire.
A father of two and grandfather of three, Allmon enjoys snowboarding, kayaking and photography. And, of course, fighting fires.
“He’s a little hyperactive,” said Tom Hanify, president of the Professional Firefighters Union of Indiana, who has known Allmon for about 30 years. “That might be why I like him. He’s relentless.”
Mere months into the job, Allmon faced his first big fire in 1982 when smoke poured from the old Kenny Glass building. Allmon stood on the front line — where rookies belonged — and attempted to cool down the fiery-hot building with Mother Nature’s cure.
But his equipment let him down.
“I just started throwing water and then, boom, the hose line burst,” said Allmon. “So here I was standing in front of a wall of fire and thinking, ‘What have I done?’ That’s when I realized there was something more to this.”
During nearly three decades of work with the Columbus Fire Department, Allmon learned the trade and gained the respect of colleagues.
He took on the role of inspector, helping educate local youth on fire safety. He also is a veteran with the State Fire Marshal’s task force on fire investigation and arson.
“I’ve worked with him his whole career,” said Deputy Chief David Dwyer. “I’m excited about him coming and being the chief. He’s been very active in the union for his whole career. So he has the men’s best interests at heart. I’m sure he’ll work to improve our benefit package and our pay.”
Allmon toured the local fire stations this past week and met with firefighters. Opening the lines of communication is important, he believes, and he plans to have regular department meetings to ensure they stay open.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Allmon, who colleagues describe as a man who could talk a fire truck’s lights off.
“I’m not going to lie,” Allmon said. “Fighting fires is fun.”
Allmon hopes his firefighters approach their jobs the same way.
And, for what it’s worth, Dwyer doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“(Allmon) is full of energy,” Dwyer said. “He’s always moving forward. He’s always thinking positive. I know he’ll always do the best thing for us.”
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