Dwayne Denton, who served for a total of 33 years in the Amagansett Fire Department, including as the chief and, most recently a commissioner, died at home in Amagansett on Friday, April 8 at age 61. He was a friend to many, both in and out of the fire service.
Whether as a volunteer or in his work as an East Hampton Town fire marshal, Denton took his commitment to fire safety seriously. As a fire chief, he never led with a heavy hand and earned the respect of those he worked with directly and indirectly throughout East Hampton Town, where he lived and worked all of his life.
He always had a kind word, never wavered in giving a helping hand and exuded a positivity that was contagious. His positivity remained even through a devastating lung cancer diagnosis that came less than a month ago.
For his firematic service at the firehouse on Monday, a line stretched out the bay doors of firefighters in their Class A uniforms, white-gloved and donning mourning bands, there to give a final salute to the former chief. His turnout coat hung from Company 3’s truck behind his casket, surrounded by flowers, in a packed room.
Denton first joined the Amagansett Fire Department back in November 1978, following in the footsteps of childhood friends and high school classmates Daniel Shields and Bruce Stonemetz who had already volunteered. He was assigned to Company 3, known as a tight-knit group, and served until August of 1984 when he stepped down.
He returned to the department in February of 1995, again serving alongside his friends in Company 3. Just two years later, in 1997, he became an officer, first serving as an assistant captain through 1998. He became a captain, serving in 2005, 2006 and 2009.
During that last year as Company 3’s captain, Denton rescued an elderly woman from her burning home. He and Stonemetz were among the first two firefighters to arrive at the call on February 16, 2009. While Stonemetz tried to quell the flames, Denton carried the 89-year-old woman out of the home. While she had been in a protected area of the house, she had to be taken through an unprotected area to get out of the house, The East Hampton Star reported at the time. The house was destroyed.
The department honored Denton as a co-recipient of the Fireman of the Year award for that year.
The following year, in 2010, he was elected second assistant chief, a post he continued in 2011. Denton moved up to first assistant chief in 2012, serving under his cousin Chief Mark Bennett. Then in 2013, he became chief, serving in 2014 as well, before turning the reins over to Chief Allen Bennett, whom he had mentored.
“After completing all these years of service, Dwyane was not done,” current Chief Chris Beckert told the mourners at the firematic service. Denton was elected to the Board of Fire Commissioners in 2017 and finished a five-year term in December of 2021.
“Overall, Dwayne accepted the responsibilities these titles afford with commitment and professionalism, serving his department and community with a great deal of pride for 33 years,” Beckert continued. “I and the members of the Amagansett Fire Department thank him and his family for his job well done.”
His motivation was simple, his wife Susan Denton said: “To serve his community in any way that he could.”
The department, she added, “It was a family.”
Denton was born at Southampton Hospital on September 18, 1960, to Robert Eugene Denton and the former Ruth Ann Lester. His father grew up in Springs and his mother comes from an Amagansett family, so it was between the two hamlets that they made a home on Old Stone Highway. Their son would live there for all of his 61 years, except for nine months when he and his first wife rented elsewhere.
He graduated from the Amagansett School and went on to East Hampton High School in 1978.
In 1982, he married Debra Ann (Debbie) Trentham. With her daughter, Marlene, they moved back to his family home (his parents built a house towards the back of the property) and they had a daughter, Shayla. His first wife died of lung cancer in 1994 at the age of 39.
Denton met the former Susan Cahill of Shelter Island in passing through a mutual friend at The Wall, the music store at the Bridgehampton Commons. Later, Cahill attended the Amagansett Fire Department’s annual Chicken BBQ, where she caught his eye.
She admits she thought she was never getting married and never having kids. That changed with Denton. The couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary last year, having been married on May 11, 1996.
“He was somebody who my grandfather never met — my grandfather was my world,” she said, likening him to her husband. Denton “always did for others. He was always the most kindest, gentlest, wonderful person, and that’s what drew me to him. And now they have met.”
Denton’s blended family was his pride and joy — it was obvious to anyone he met. “He loved his family. He couldn’t have been prouder,” his wife said.
When they first married, he was working at the town’s sewage treatment plant, but on the weekends he took on carpentry work on the side — his father was in construction and he had long worked with him. His wife would go out to jobs with him, “we were building decks, humping lumber — you do what you’ve got to do,” she recalled. He started Robert E. Denton & Son, a construction company.
After suffering a back injury, he decided to change careers. About six years ago he took a position as a part-time fire marshal with the Town of East Hampton, a job that married his firefighting passion with work. One year later, he became full-time. Just last year, he was promoted to senior fire marshal, according to Chief David (Buzzy) Browne and on February 8 of this year he achieved the level of New York State Fire Investigator II.
“He absolutely loved being a fire marshal,” his wife said.
His wife said she was told Denton even made an impression on those who he had to ticket. “He did it with respect. He was always a fair man,” she said.
Woodworking remained a passion though. He and his father built a shop behind his house “The man loved to be in his shop,” Bennett said. When he retired, he wanted to build furniture, but he created tables, chairs, toy chests and more for family and friends. “I have a million tables in my house,” she said. “He did amazing finishing work — beautiful craftsmanship.”
Recently, he and his son restored a boat. They enjoyed duck hunting and surfcasting together.
Bennett recalled camping at Wildwood State Park in Wading River and Cedar Point County Park in East Hampton with her father as a child, something she enjoys doing now with her family. Her father went on a trip last year and they had another booked for August.
He was a father figure to many. “He had so many adopted kids that still to this day come back to him for advice. He was always there to lend that ear, to lend that hand, and to give them that guidance that they needed,” his wife said.
Denton is survived by his stepdaughter, Marlene Daniels of Springs, his daughter, Shayla Bennett of Amagansett, and his son Daniel Denton of Amagansett, as well as his sons-in-law, Steven Bennett and Mark Daniels, whom he not only loved but considered his friends. Five grandchildren — Faith Daniels, Mark Daniels, Paige Daniels, Jocelyn Bennett and Tabitha Bennett — also survive.
In addition to his first wife, he was predeceased by his parents and an older brother, Billy Denton, who died as a baby.
The family received visitors at the firehouse on Monday. There was also a graveside service at Green River Cemetery in Springs.