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Former fire chief to be honored decades after his death

  • Discovered within a torn, leather bound book of meeting minutes from the Winnisquam Fire Department was a handwritten page that read: “This page to be left blank in memory of our Chief, Chester Brickett. Passed away at the wheel of the F.M.C in the line of duty returning from the home of ... South Main Street, Laconia Jan 14, 1954.” Courtesy

  • Within a torn, leather bound book of meeting minutes from the Winnisquam Fire Department was a handwritten page that read: “This page to be left blank in memory of our Chief, Chester Brickett. Passed away at the wheel of the F.M.C in the line of duty returning from the home of ... South Main Street, Laconia Jan 14, 1954.” —Courtesy



Monitor staff
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A New Hampshire fire chief who died in the line of duty more than 63 years ago will finally be honored this year for making the ultimate sacrifice.

Winnisquam fire Chief Chester Brickett will receive posthumously the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a firefighter. Just this year, State Fire Marshall J. William Degnan ruled Brickett’s death on Jan. 14, 1954, as a “line of duty death,” thanks to the investigative work of Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid’s newest chief and his staff.

Mutual aid Chief Coordinator Jonathan Goldman said the distinction, although a solemn one, “demonstrates a firefighter’s last selfless act to his community.”

In honor of that sacrifice, Brickett’s name will be engraved on a panel at the New Hampshire’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Concord this September, as part of the annual memorial service. He will also receive the “Paul Sypek Medal of Valor” award at the New Hampshire Fire Service Committee of Merit’s annual awards ceremony, because he died while on duty.

Brickett had been chief of the Winnisquam Fire Department, which served the Lakes Region communities of Belmont, Sanbornton and Tilton, for six years prior to his death. In 2006, that department merged with the Belmont Fire Department.

“Whether you passed away last week, 25 years ago or 50 years ago, the fire service is still a brotherhood,” Goldman said in an interview Wednesday. “In the fire service in general, we’d be remiss to not bring honors to the people who deserve them.”

Goldman, who is also a team leader with the Granite State Fire Service Support Team, said he came upon mention of Brickett’s death on the “New England Fire Rescue History On This Date” Facebook page managed by a Londonderry resident. The social media entry was marking the anniversary of the death of the Winnisquam chief decades earlier in Laconia.

Brickett, 51, had responded with his men to a small fire in Laconia on Jan. 14, 1954. On his return from the call, Brickett was “stricken behind the wheel,” documents say, and later died en route to Laconia Hospital. Winnisquam fire Captain Richard Rusk, who was in the passenger’s seat, was able to apply the brakes and steer the vehicle to a safe stop.

The cause of death was ultimately ruled a heart attack.

Brickett was the first president of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association, established in March 1953. As the association’s newest chief, Goldman said he felt a strong connection to Brickett, whose death had not been properly honored by the state.

Working with mutual aid Lt. Kevin Nugent, Goldman searched internet archives, 1950’s era town reports and handwritten meeting notes from the association during that time period. He said the documents, coupled with family interviews, began to slowly piece together Brickett’s life and the circumstances surrounding his death.

The break in the case came when Nugent came across an old leather-bound book of handwritten meeting minutes from the Winnisquam Fire Department. One page reads, “This page to be left blank in memory of our Chief, Chester Brickett. Passed away at the wheel of the F.M.C in the line of duty returning from the home of ... South Main Street, Laconia Jan 14, 1954.”

The meeting minutes provided the official documentation Goldman needed to prove that Brickett was the fire chief of the Winnisquam Fire Department and on duty when he died. The minutes and other documentation were shared with the fire marshal’s office for a final review.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)