Boscawen fire chief set to retire after 56 years with the department

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher speaks about his fire-fighting career in the department’s recreation hall in December. Fisher is retiring on March 12 after 56 years in the Boscawen Fire Department.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher speaks about his fire-fighting career in the department’s recreation hall in December. Fisher is retiring on March 12 after 56 years in the Boscawen Fire Department.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher speaks about his fire-fighting career in the department’s recreation hall in December. Fisher is retiring on March 12 after 56 years in the Boscawen Fire Department.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen fire Chief Ray Fisher talks about his career fighting fires in the department’s recreation hall in December. Fisher is retiring on March 12 after 56 years with the Boscawen Fire Department. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor file

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher speaks about his fire-fighting career in the department’s recreation hall in December. Fisher is retiring on March 12 after 56 years in the Boscawen Fire Department.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher looks at a photo of his dog and citations from fire rescues on the wall of the Boscawen Fire Department in December.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen fire Chief Ray Fisher reflects on his close to 60-year-long career as a firefighter in Boscawen at the fire station in December.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen Fire Chief Ray Fisher stands in front of a town fire truck at the Boscawen Fire Department on 15 High St. in December. Fisher has worked in the department since before the time the town purchased its oldest fire truck still in use in 1975.   LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen fire Chief Ray Fisher reflects on his close to 60-year-long career as a firefighter in Boscawen at the fire station in December.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Boscawen fire Chief Ray Fisher reflects on his close to 60-year career as a firefighter in Boscawen at the fire station in December.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/6/2019 6:34:33 PM

UPDATE: Boscawen’s new chief, Timothy Kenney, will continue the tradition in Boscawen of having a part-time fire chief. He will make $14,000 a year while continuing to work in the Salem Fire Department. Boscawen Town Administrator Alan Hardy said that the decision for Kenney to be a volunteer chief happened late in the hiring process. That information was not available to the Monitor by press time. 

Ray Fisher still has a burning passion for firefighting. But the inevitable finally caught up with a seemingly ageless figure in Boscawen.

The town’s 80-year-old fire chief feels it when he gets a call for a fire at 3 a.m. and it takes him longer to pull on his 50-pound turnout gear and breathing equipment. He feels it when he arrives at the scene of a fire and struggles to lug the department’s long, bulky hoses.

“I know I’m not what I used to be,” said Fisher, sitting in the fire department recreation hall he helped build more than 15 years ago. “But it’s so hard to let it all go.”

Fisher has been on the Boscawen fire department for 56 years this year, the last 21 as chief. He’s spent his life fighting fires.

Now, he’s preparing to move on; his retirement date is March 12. It’s not easy for him.

“This job has been my whole life,” he said. “It’s my identity – who I am. Without it, my life won’t be the same. That’s hard to confront.”

The town planned to hire a new part-time fire chief Tuesday night, parting ways from the tradition of having a volunteer chief.

Salem Batallion Chief Timothy Kenney will be making around $32,000 to 42,000 as Boscawen fire chief, according to the job posting on the Boscawen town website. Fisher made $21,402 in 2018 in his combined jobs as volunteer fire chief and town life safety officer, according to the town.

Town officials say the job of fire chief is constantly evolving and becoming more complicated: Firefighters not only fight fires but respond to car accidents and some health emergencies. The Boscawen Fire Department coordinates with Concord, Franklin and surrounding towns to respond to fires.

The shift away from volunteerism is one of the many things that has changed in the almost six decades since Fisher joined the department, he said. Fisher said he sees the tradition of volunteer fire departments in small towns dying away.

“We used to have a wait list to get into this department,” he said. “Volunteerism today is not what it used to be. Everybody’s too busy with families and all that stuff to be volunteers, no matter what it is.”

The start

Before Fisher began fighting fires he was chasing them.

Fisher, then 22, had just returned from four years in the Air Force. It was 1963, and he would see the fire trucks, at that time, makeshift forestry trucks with tanks strapped onto them, and follow them. Then, he would stand at the outskirts of the scene and watch the firefighters work.

There was a wait list for the volunteer fire department in those days, Fisher said. All 30 slots were filled up. Now, at 24, they are nowhere near that.

Walking around the fire department on a recent winter morning as the sound of the dispatch radio echoed through the building, Fisher said it’s difficult to explain why he loves his work.

He said he’s always found it rewarding to fix problems: whether to be something simple like going into a home and fixing a faulty Carbon Monoxide or smoke detector or getting to a more severe get to a fire quickly and putting it out before it causes too much damage.

“I’ve been in here my whole life,” he said, looking around at the line of red fire trucks and gear. “It’s just always been in my blood.”

Changing technology

The walls of the Boscawen fire station are covered in memories of Fisher’s time in the department: a photo of his dog wearing a firefighter’s hat, crew members he’s served with and letters thanking chief Fisher and his team for their work in the community.

Fisher said there were times, especially earlier in his career, when people and buildings weren’t able to be saved. A lot of that had to do with the technology that was available for fire-fighting at the time.

Today, the department has class A pumpers, which pump water at 1,500 gallons per minute. Back then, they could work at 500 gallons per minute.

When Fisher started, the department didn’t have air packs and masks, which firefighters use now when they go into burning buildings to protect them from smoke and deadly gases.

They also didn’t have the communication devices they have now – like cell phones and computers – or connections to other local fire departments.

“There’s a lot of cellar holes around the town of Boscawen back then,” he said. “We had more deaths from fires than we do now.”

Now, they are able to get where they are going faster, houses are being built more safely, they can communicate with their other volunteer members and for more severe fires, they can call upon Franklin or Concord.

Fisher said the department responds to around 200 fires per year, much less than even 20 years ago. They only had two forest fires this past summer.

A changing role

Fisher said one of the greatest challenges for the fire department now is the number of automobile accidents it responds to.

The town is much bigger than it was 60 years ago and with Routes 3 and 4 both running through the town, there can be heavy traffic.

While Penacook Rescue handles most emergency medical cases, the fire department is usually on scene to assist.

Fisher said one of the most difficult moments he’s had as chief in recent years was responding to an accident this past July 4 involving four teenage boys, two of which had to be extracted from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life. One of the boys, then 16-year-old Corbin Raymond, almost didn’t make it out alive.

“That was one moment where I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I can’t take this anymore,’ ” he said. “’Maybe I’m done.’ ”

Select Board Chair Mark Varney said this was one of the major motivations the town had to hire a part-time chief.

“We don’t see the town shrinking, we don’t see our roads becoming less busy,” he said. “The type of accidents that we’re having are serious and we just want to make sure that we’re being proactive in moving the town forward.”

Volunteerism

There’s a lot less awareness for all the work volunteer firefighters do than when he started, Fisher said.

“People in this town don’t realize that this place is really all volunteers,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know where this fire department is.”

For 25 calls a year, volunteer firefighters in Boscawen make $3,000. But Fisher said they throw Halloween parties, do roadside cleanups, make food baskets for the hungry and do school programs in their own time.

Every year, they make a chicken barbeque where they cool 200 chickens in front of the fire department for anyone who wants to join in can come.

Fisher said managing those commitments, as well as finding jobs that will be flexible with firefighting hours and balancing family life have been a challenge for young people looking to join the department.

Fisher said he had a busy life outside of fire-fighting, but he always found a way to make time for his passion.

Fisher was the father to three boys, and he spent his days coaching baseball and basketball leagues and as the leader for his son’s 4-H group.

He was a manager at Edgecomb Steel in Nashua , but he was able to leave that job during the day if he was needed for a fire.

“They have to want to do it. I think that’s the secret to the whole thing,” Fisher said. “It’s not for the money, it’s nothing other than the fact that they have to want to do this.”

Letting go

Everywhere Fisher looks around Boscawen, he is reminded of his career: two farms by his home that burned years ago, old houses on Main Street.

He remembers the old fire station, set back behind the historical society. And the new one, built at least 30 years ago by firefighters using contributions from the town.

Fisher was on the fire department almost 20 years before the oldest truck in the station, a 1975 mac, was built. He said he remembered traveling to the builder to check on its progress and the day it arrived at the station.

He also built the smokey bear sign outside and dedicated to it to the man who was chief before him, who he was close friends with.

Two of his sons have both been part of the Boscawen Fire Department, one is captain now and another works full-time as a firefighter in Concord.

There’s so much Fisher will miss,  he said.

“It’s weighing on me emotionally and I have to get through this and get over it,” he said. “It’s time I know, but I hate to admit that its time.”

 Town Administrator Alan Hardy said losing Fisher will be one of the biggest transitions the fire department has had in   recent years.

“There are some who look at the at retirement date as an opportunity to go sit on a beach somewhere, but Ray is about service,” he said. “This is going to be a significant change.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ LeahMWillingham.)




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