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Monday, December 28, 2020

A Look Back With Retiring Fort Thomas Fire Chief Mark Bailey

Retiring Fort Thomas Fire Chief Mark Bailey shared highlights of his 45-year career with Fort Thomas Matters.
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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

After 45 years in fire and emergency service, Mark Bailey announced in October that he will be retiring at the end of 2020. Fort Thomas Matters sat down with the chief to take a look back over his career that included 16 years at the helm as chief of the Fort Thomas Fire Department and to ask him what’s next. 

Fort Thomas Matters (FTM): Were you always interested in fire service? What first attracted you to that career? 

Mark Bailey: When I was in college at Western Kentucky University, I was working towards a degree in sports medicine. Part of that was I had to take an EMT class, and that was what really got me interested in EMS work and emergency care...I enjoyed the aspect of emergency medical services and the people. I enjoyed the fire side, too, learning all the tactics and the strategies involved with all the firefighting techniques. 

So I started in 1975 as a volunteer for Cold Spring and was there for seven years when I had the opportunity, after going to paramedic school, to get hired at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport Fire Department in October 1982. 

FTM: What did you do before being hired at the airport? How did that unfold? 

MB: After I graduated from Western, I went to UC and got my masters in education, and I actually started out as a teacher at Campbell County High School teaching health and driver’s ed. I was also the athletic trainer for all sports. I was the first certified trainer in a Northern Kentucky high school back in 1979. Having an EMT and emergency care background helped me in that position. I taught there two years but in 1981, Campbell County schools had a budget cut and cut 29 teachers. I was one that got a pink slip – and yes, it actually was pink! I left on really good terms, but they just did not have the positions and the monies to fill positions. 

FTM: So you were afloat. What happened next? 

MB: I got to thinking. I really liked the emergency care field. I now had the opportunity to go to paramedic school. I was one of only three individuals who completed the paramedic school in 360 days, just five days short of year, which is still the fastest record in Northern Kentucky. We were part of the second class of the paramedic program. That was 1980 to 1981. Then I went looking for a job. I applied at Fort Thomas and at the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky International Airport. The airport hired me. 

FTM: Did you continue on in your volunteer role after you went to the airport? 

MB: Yes, I continued at Cold Spring for 23 years. I worked my way up there as a volunteer all the way up to the fire chief’s position and spent six years as the fire chief there (from 1990 to 1996) while at the airport for my full-time job. 

How long were you with the airport fire service? And how did you come to Fort Thomas? 

MB: I worked 22 years at the airport, working my way up to captain in charge of EMS before I retired in 2004. Then, I had the opportunity to join the Fort Thomas Fire Department. I have been blessed, so very fortunate to be here in the wonderful city of Fort Thomas for 16 years. It’s been quite an exciting time, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything about the city of Fort Thomas and the Fire Department. I’ve had a very fortunate career, 45 years total of firefighting and active EMS service, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of what I like to say are the two best fire departments in Northern Kentucky — the airport and Fort Thomas fire departments. 

Throughout his career, Mark Bailey has seen and participated in some devastating incidents, but he said each incident big or small is an opportunity to grow.

FTM: Were there any fires or emergency incidents that stand out to you in your long career that made you think, "yes, this is for real. I am in the right place, made the right career choice"?

MB: I do not like to use the word "opportunity" when it comes to these incidents, but the first big incident I was a part of was in 1977, May 28th, the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire. From Cold Spring we sent down a number of people to help out Southgate with that fire, and I was one of the EMTs they sent. I spent from 9 p.m. that night til 5 a.m. the next morning working that fire scene. 

So, that scenario, knowing the firefighting and EMS work, the criticalness of it, that kind of rang a bell with me that this is something I’m interested in doing, expanding my career as best I can and helping as many people as I can. 

I was hired at the airport on October 26, 1982 as a firefighter paramedic and then not long after, on June 2, 1983, was the Air Canada Flight 797 fire,* so I was on the scene that night working with then Captain Horton (who later became chief). We had a lot of work that night, trying to save as many people as we could. I worked through that. 

FTM: That’s a lot to handle. How did you cope? 

MB: I’ve seen some things through the years, and each one I try to take a little different perspective of when I come out of it. For one thing, I know I’m a part of a great organization. As they say, there’s n “I” in team. Whether it’s the airport or Fort Thomas, I know we do a great job trying to mitigate the situation as quickly as possible and help as many people as possible.  I’ve had times when I’ve been confronted with some big incidences, but, again, I feel like those have helped me grow and understand the career even more. 

FTM: I can imagine you’ve been called out for many less intense runs as well, maybe even some humorous ones, anything come to mind? I’ve bet you’ve had your share of cats caught in trees? 

MB: Sure, I’ve received a number of calls over the years, but if it is an emergency to one person at that time, then I think we need to handle that as an emergency and help them to mitigate that situation. That’s a philosophy that I’ve carried throughout my career and the people I’ve associated with carry throughout theirs. You may get called for some peculiar scenarios, but at the time the person calling feels it is an emergency, and we need to help them as much as we can. It’s important for us to answer all those calls to the utmost of our ability, and we do that here at the Fort Thomas Fire Department every day. 

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FTM: Over the years, have you seen major changes in the technology of fighting fires? 

MB: I think a lot of equipment has evolved through the years, gotten better. Recently, we have upgraded our SCBA masks with a more integrated self-contained breathing apparatus. With the COVID epidemic, a lot of changes have occurred. We’ve put our people in the best equipment we can to protect them. We have a motto in fire service that everyone goes home. I have that on a wristband that I wear and give to all of my employees...

So, yes, we’ve seen various different equipment upgrades over years. What sticks out to me in the last few years is now have more sophisticated technology that protects us as well as the patients we come in contact with, whether that’s at a fire or an EMS scene. 

FTM: Unfortunately, it seems when a crisis comes along it can highlight changes that are needed. The whole 9-11 disaster comes to mind. From what I understand, that has strongly influenced how we look at emergency communications, and changes are being made right now in our community that stem from that. 

MB: Yes, that’s been a rewarding project to work on. I’ve been part of the project where Campbell County, Kenton County and Boone County, all of us, are going on the same radio system...The number one aspect to any scene or anything in general, is obviously communication. To be able to talk to various different agencies, rather than just fire departments alone or police talking to police departments alone. We are now going to be able to talk to everybody. That system is up and running. 

The fire side worked diligently to try to obtain some monies to help the cities with this. We received that money in early fall. The radios have been purchased, and they will be on board this month or by the first of January...It’s going to change the whole perspective of being able to communicate with one another at an emergency incident...I think that’s going to be something that will carry well into the 21st century with communications ability... that’s so critical, the communication aspect. 

Mark Bailey is looking forward to relaxing and improving his golf game but said he is ready to help whenever he is needed and will keep the lines of communication open.

FTM: What would you like people to know about your experience with Fort Thomas? 

MB: We have great people here. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people in my career. Fort Thomas has got some great firefighter paramedics. As I always tell council, the best in the business. They do a great job day in and day out for the city of Fort Thomas. 

It’s been a pleasure to be the fire chief and work with a wonderful organization in both the city and the fire department. But, it’s time to retire and relax a little bit. I’ve always said it’s kind of a young person’s game, and it’s time for the next person to fill the shoes and move right along. 

When I talked to my officers in October and told them what my intentions were, I told them I think the city’s been blessed with a great fire department for a number of years. Our forefathers had an opportunity to build a wonderful foundation and start a good building. I think over the last 16 years we’ve added a few floors to that building with the things we’ve done here with the Fort Thomas Fire Department. 

FTM: What’s next for you? 

MB: Well, obviously I will miss the fire department, and as I told them, I’m not going to delete any numbers in my phone. If they need something, all they have to do is pick up the phone and call me. I’ll be glad to help them in any way, shape or form. 

I’m probably going to relax a little bit. Over the course of the last few years I’ve lost a lot of weight so I’ll continue to exercise. I like walking. I like to read, probably get into a few more books now that I’ll have more time to read and enjoy them. It’s winter time so I have a little bit of down time, but I’m sure there are some projects I’ll be working on around the house. My wife is retired now, too, so we’ll be doing some things at home I’m sure. 

Hopefully, after this pandemic, we can do a little traveling. In the spring, I like working in my yard, but I’d like to play some golf. Hopefully I can get a little better at that, hitting that white ball around. I plan on doing a little bit of that and trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and again, there’ll be things out there. People will call, and if I can help in any way, I’ll want to do that. 

FTM: Any words you have for your colleagues and the community? 

MB: Again, I’ve been very fortunate and have had the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful people, and I wish them all the very best in their future endeavors. It’s certainly been a pleasure to serve the citizens of Fort Thomas as it was for all of my 45-year career, for everyone I’ve had the opportunity to come into contact with. 

When firefighter paramedics are hired here, they come here for their careers. This is a wonderful city to work for and to work in, and the citizens associated with it. I’ve had the opportunity to hire 12 of the 18 firefighters here over my 16-year career and all 12 of those positions were created by someone who retired, so it’s not that they leave here to go somewhere else. And that speaks volumes for the city, the administration, the mayor on down, board of council, city administrator, everyone. It’s just a wonderful place to be. 


*Note: The Air Canada disaster claimed the lives of 23 people, but another 23 were rescued after the plane was forced to land in Cincinnati after it caught fire while in flight between Dallas and Montreal.

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