Manthey goes from Kent Fire Department's 'snake guy' to chief

By Thomas Gallick | Staff Writer Published:

When firefighters talk about taking their work home with them, it's usually safe to assume they're not talking about snakes.

That's not always the case with Dave Manthey, Kent's new fire chief.

Manthey, who began serving with the Kent Fire Department in 1980, became known as "the snake guy" early in his career when he intercepted and responded to a police dispatch call regarding a snake in a student apartment. Manthey said he has always loved reptiles and was afraid of what the responding police officer meant when he said he'd "take care of" the snake.

Since that call, Manthey became the city's go-to guy for anything reptilian roaming city streets or Kent State University's campus.

"All of the sudden I just started housing all of these lost reptiles," he said. "It's really died down, but you'd be surprised at how many students think snakes are really great pets."

Manthey said he believed Kent sees a higher number of roaming snakes, iguanas and other reptiles than other cities because college students like to keep them as pets in their apartments or dorms during the school year, and then set them free after graduation or during breaks.

A savannah monitor lizard found its way into his home after an elderly Kent resident found one on her doorstep after returning from shopping at the grocery store. The savannah monitor, native to Africa, can grow up to five feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds.

"My wife hated that one because they're carnivores," he said. "The iguanas would be nice and just eat all your house plants, but this one I was feeding rats."

Manthey, who worked for Community Ambulance in Garrettsville for two years before the city of Kent hired him, said his encounter with the monitor lizard, along with the time when the department found a black caiman crocodile in an apartment on the city's west side, exemplify what led him to stay with the Kent Fire Department for nearly his entire career.

"The diversity of calls is amazing," he said. "We've got everything from school kids to seniors. When I was working up (in northern Portage County), you saw a lot of trauma -- a lot of car accidents and farm accidents. You see everything (in Kent)."

He said one of his most memorable emergency runs occurred in the early 1990s when a young boy was climbing on a trailer ramp when it fell and split his head open.

"The kids that are crying don't worry me, it's the kids that are dead silent," he said. "This kid was dead silent."

Manthey and his partner treated the child at the scene and transported him to Akron Children's Hospital, where the boy recovered. He said he still keeps in touch with the father of the boy, who is now 27.

"It's very rewarding when you can affect the outcome of someone's life like that," he said.

He said the dramatic nature of the rescue led the makers of the television show "Rescue 911," which featured reenactments of medical emergencies, to interview him and his partner. The show was canceled before this segment aired.

Manthey served under five fire chiefs, starting with Robert "Bud" Rhoads in 1980, before earning the department's top position through a civil service test in October. Manthey's immediate predecessor, James Williams, retired in August because of health concerns after 34 years with the department, including 16 as chief.

He said the most important lesson he learned from the prior chiefs was the importance of delegating responsibilities within the department.

Although he had served as acting chief of the department before, Manthey said the hardest part of his transition has not been dealing with fires or medical emergencies, but more mundane challenges such as supervising budgets and fire and safety inspections for a city with a $100 million downtown redevelopment project.

"I have two inspectors here that are just swamped," he said. "Especially with the downtown (redevelopment) project, they're literally doing hundreds of inspections and plan reviews. It's been overwhelming for those guys."

Even with the new challenges of being chief, Manthey said he has time to focus on two lifelong hobbies -- music and track and field.

Manthey, who was a decathlete at Ashland College, coaches track at Stow-Munroe Falls High School and frequently attends concerts at the Kent Stage. Kent residents might also spot the new fire chief and self-professed "Deadhead," or fan of the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead, at the annual Kent State Folk Festival, playing guitar.

"Music is a huge part of what I do when I walk outside these back doors," he said. "Hopefully when I walk out and don't come back, I'm going to get back into (performing)."

As for the reptiles, Manthey said he has been taking in fewer and fewer throughout the years, and currently has none in his home.

But he's keeping the cages, just in case.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1126 or tgallick@recordpub.com

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