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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Wright knew what was right when it came to fire fighting

  • Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

    Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.

    (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

  • Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
  • Dick Wright of Loudon, who recently retired as Chief Coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aide Fire Compact, stands in the newly renamed Richard E. Wright Loudon Fire Department Station 2 on July 23, 2014.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)

Dick Wright, modest and gentle, is 81 years old and lives alone in Loudon.

His house, though, is filled with muffled voices, high-pitched beeps and static that crackles, just as it has for decades.

The sounds are from a radio transmitter in his kitchen and a scanner in his living room, and Wright just can’t seem to turn them off, not yet, not one month after retiring as chief coordinator for the Capital Area Mutual Aid Fire Compact.

They were the tools of his trade, the ones he incorporated into an antiquated system, blending departments together communications-wise to create structure and order when danger burned nearby.

So, I suspect, those beeps and crackles will be floating through his home for a little while longer.

“Most retired people,” Wright said, “would have turned them off by now.”

Radios and scanners are fitting trophies for Wright, who joined the Concord Fire Department as a volunteer in 1957 and moved to full time in ’63, and later spent 12 years as the chief in Loudon.

Once, fire departments responded as separate entities, working in a vacuum, blind and deaf to the actions of their colleagues from other towns. Often, fire hoses, firefighters, darkness and heat created chaos, when structure and order were so desperately needed.

Wright, who would later open a family communication equipment business, wanted to move his profession, his real love, into an electronic network.

Think of the possibilities, he thought to himself while fighting a fire 50 years ago in Canterbury.

“No one could speak to each other among the different trucks and departments,” Wright said, sitting in his kitchen. “My experience with communications and fire fighting came together at that point. We could get one truck in each department with radio capability to talk to a truck in another department.”

He laid out his thoughts with about a half-dozen area fire chiefs.

No longer would departments from Belmont and Loudon and Pembroke and Boscawen and Canterbury and Concord and Pittsfield have to work in the dark, disconnected from their brothers.

“There was no coordination between groups of firefighters,” Wright said. “They were all friendly, but there was no planning.”

That Wright was in on the ground floor of something that revolutionized fire fighting here is not surprising. He delivered newspapers to firefighters as a kid in Concord during the 1940s.

He didn’t play football or basketball growing up, opting to run errands for the firemen. He’d buy them ice cream, and the deputy chief let him ride in his car, a big black vehicle that Wright said looked like a hearse.

“He always told me to keep my head down,” Wright said. “I grew to love fire service.”

He remembered his days as a young volunteer living on Pine Street in the late 1950s, when the blare of a horn, high on a tower, warned you that a structure somewhere was burning.

In those days, the horn told firefighters where to go by blasting its siren in different sequences to represent a street address.

“It would get us to within a few blocks of the fire,” Wright said.

Through the 1960s, Wright fought fires around the city. This week, wearing his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked out his sliding glass door that framed the swimming pool in his backyard and thought back.

To the fire at the corner of North Main and Pleasant streets, where thick black smoke dominated the skyline and Wright and others retreated down a ladder, shortly before a brick wall fell and stacked up around Wright’s feet.

To the fire at the corner of North Main and Depot streets, where the top floor burned and Wright had to persuade a man not to jump, giving firefighters time to save him.

And to the fire near Park Street, where Wright banged on apartment doors to clear everyone out, then had to crawl and search for the staircase that led back downstairs.

In those days, communication was in the stone age, leaving firefighters to work with one hand tied behind their backs. Ray Fisher, Boscawen’s longtime chief, remembers.

“We used to have different frequencies on radio,” Fisher said. “It was a hard thing way back. You had to figure out who was where, and it was not a common frequency you could talk on.”

More than 40 years ago, Wright was named chief coordinator of the area’s mutual aid system, a part-time position. He’s been full time since 1989, and the compact now serves 22 cities and towns, led for years by a veteran who commanded respect with a soft voice and plenty of smarts.

“He was a very calming influence on a fire scene,” Fisher said. “Not all chiefs are the same, and some showed animosity to him for showing up at their scene. They wanted to do it their way, and he would not push. If he was needed, he’d help, or step back. Very easy to get along with.”

Added Concord Chief Dan Andrus, “He was not only effective, but absolutely vital to our areawide system of operations. Never seen him angry or expressing a temper. One of the most even-keeled and delightful people you’ll ever meet.”

Wright’s wife of 54 years, Jean, died of cancer in 2006. His son, Rick, who says his father “was always great under pressure, even when five people at once were asking what they should do,” lives next door and took over the Loudon Fire Department in 2013. His daughter, Gina, has also settled in Loudon. He has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

But he also has more time on his hands than ever, alone in the house he moved into in 1979. He’ll clean his pool, spend more time with his family and look forward to his retirement party next month.

Meanwhile, the muffled voices, high-pitched beeps and static that crackles will be there, in his kitchen and in his living room.

“I listen to the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid, get an idea of other systems,” Wright said. “I like to hear what’s going on.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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