Small department. Big heart.

Firefighters (from left) Shaun Brewer, Jay Sanders and P.J. Simpson share a laugh over coffee at the Cynthiana Fire Department after a morning spent working to control flooding in the city. Jay is the fire chief. His goal is to embed the firefighting team in the community so local residents will see them as family.

Jay Sanders had a vision when he became chief of the Cynthiana Fire Department. He saw a team of firefighters that the city would come to know as family.

For Jay that meant being involved directly with the community.

“Compassion is probably the biggest thing that makes people firemen,” he says. 

On a typical day, Jay can be found chasing down mice in city hall, controlling floodwaters or welcoming students at Eastside Elementary to school in the morning.

No task is too little for him.

“I want them to call us and feel like there is a family member coming to help them,” Jay says.

At home his large family continues with his competition bird dogs. He says working with them is a lot like working with the fire department. It’s a team.

In the golden broom sage along the hillside behind Jay's house, Maple, a Brittney puppy, catches the scent of a bird and points for the first time. Jay has been training the puppy for his son, Jackson.

Jay says Jackson's goal is to one day beat him in a competition.

"That's my goal, too," he says. 

It's about carrying on a fading sport that is rooted in his family history better than the one before them. Jay's grandfather also worked with bird dogs. He says that when he is training them it reminds him of all he was taught. 

"This is really like my sanctuary," he says.

Jay carries a backboard to the fire truck after using it to block some of the floodwater entering a house on the corner of East Bridge Street and South Elmarch Avenue.
Jay comforts Joe Hall during breakfast at Hardee's. Joe's puppy had cancer and needed to be put down. He had bought the puppy from Jay a year eariler. Joe is a preacher at Blanket Creek Church in Pendleton County. He said the puppy never had the chance to go on a hunt.
Jay joined the Cynthiana Fire Department in 1995 and became chief in 2008.
Jay places a pigeon from his coop in a ground cage for training. This process teaches the dog to get the bird's scent, point and wait on him to arrive. After the training, the bird is released.
Maple gives Jay a quick kiss in the barn after pointing out her first bird. Jay says you can't teach a dog to point, they have to do that themselves. He can only build on their intincts, not create them.
Jay's son, Jackson, holds Maple while Jay holds Elle in the front yard after training. Jay says Elle was the dog that inspired him and several others to jump into competing with their bird dogs.
Jay holds up a photo of his sons, Jackson Sanders (left) and Jacob Sanders. He keeps the photo in his helmet with several notes from children in the county. "I put this in here because they are my heros," he says.
Jay hangs a melted helmet on the wall in his office. He was fighting a fire two days before Easter in 2008 when flames rolled over and knocked him to the ground. "Firemen are real superstitious, we don't like to change anything up," he says. Eariler that morning he had changed into a new turn-out suit. "We didn't realize how hot we had got." There were no injuries in the fire.