Fire chief to retire in Oneida
ONEIDA — Fire Chief Dennis Fields is retiring in May after 27 years of decorated service to the Oneida Fire Department.
Fields began his firefighting career with the Griffiss Air Force Base Fire Department before joining the Oneida Fire Department two years later. He was sworn in as Oneida’s fire chief in 2018. Fields said counting volunteer fire service, it's been 32 years altogether.
“I started in December of 1996, coming from Griffiss prior to that. I’ve had a great career at the Oneida Fire Department. We’ve had some very large incidents here in the city,” Fields said. “We had the Stanton Paper Box Fire, the CSX train derailment and then there was the City Lanes fire. And that all happened in a year.”
The Stanton Paper Box Fire of November 2006 saw the former warehouse burn to the ground in an apparent case of arson and insurance fraud.
In March 2007, a CSX Transportation train derailed near Oneida while en route to Buffalo. Six tank cars were breached, including four carrying liquefied petroleum gas, one carrying toluene, and one carrying ferric chloride. This resulted in an explosion and an emergency response that left Oneida firefighters responding for a week straight.
“But the one that touches my heart, and the hearts of many in the community, is the bowling alley fire,” Fields said. “That’s where Mitch Dryer got trapped.”
In April 2007, City Lanes in Oneida on Main Street caught fire and Dryer, a city firefighter, was one of several firefighters battling the fire inside the structure when the roof collapsed on top of him. Firefighters quickly dug through the burning wreckage in a frantic effort to save his life. Dryer was transported to SUNY Upstate Medical University Hospital’s burn unit and was in a critically injured state. He eventually recovered, but the injuries were career-ending.
“I was the one who found him,” Fields said. “There were two fresh firefighters outside who just arrived on the scene and helped get him out.” For finding Dryer, Fields was awarded the Charles V. Decker Medal of Valor — making him one of only two people in the department’s history to receive this award.
“I love serving this community,” he said. “Oneida’s a great city to live and work in. It’s the greatest career in the world. But I felt it was time to retire. There’s no one thing in particular. I’ve always had a five-year plan as chief and this coming May will be five years.”
“It’s time to let someone else bring their knowledge, experience, and desires into this department as its leader,” he added.
Taking the role of fire chief after Fields will be Deputy Fire Chief Scott Jones, whose first official day will be May 6.
Fields said he feels comfortable leaving the department in Jones’s hands. “He’ll be a great asset as chief,” he said. “Jones is quite a bit younger and he’ll bring new ideas to the department. He’ll do well and I think he’ll have the respect of the city of the department.”
Fields said he doesn’t have much planned in the future. This summer, Fields plans to go to his camp to enjoy himself.
“Being fire chief has been a great experience,” he said. “It’s been a phenomenal job and career that I’ve loved every minute of.”
A change was made to this story on Friday, March 31, 2023.
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