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The Commons
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Olga Peters/The Commons

Brattleboro Fire Capt. Ron Hubbard talks to well-wishers at his retirement party on June 28.

News

Hanging up his turnout gear after 37 years

Capt. Ron Hubbard says it's time to step aside for new crop of 'young, intelligent, able-bodied' firefighters

Originally published in The Commons issue #415 (Wednesday, July 5, 2017). This story appeared on page 0.



BRATTLEBORO—“The job kept me here,” Capt. Ron Hubbard said. “I loved it. I loved every minute of working here. And the people ... and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else all those years.”

Hubbard joined the Brattleboro Fire Department as a call man in May 1979, and was hired full time in August 1980. He was promoted to lieutenant in January 1987 and captain in November 2000.

He retired June 28, after 37 years.

Hubbard was a student at Brattleboro Union High School, taking classes in fire science when he found his career calling.

“It was the diversity of the job, and helping people and the excitement of going into a burning house and putting it out and saving property and stuff like that,” he said. “As a teenage boy, it really caught my interest.”

“Once I met some of the firefighters, I thought ‘gosh, this is a really cool career, I’d like to try it,’” he added.

Hubbard sits in one of the back rooms of the new West Brattleboro Station 2. He is nursing a cold, and he’s fresh from a medical call. A man was assaulted on Flat Street, said Hubbard. In the altercation, the man fell and split open the back of his head. He’ll be okay, said Hubbard. Lots of stitches.

In the main part of Station 2, firefighters fill the kitchen and main bay area. They arrange food and make punch for the captain’s retirement party.

“It’s time,” Hubbard said about starting his retirement. “I’m tired, I’m sore. Going out to fire calls in the middle of the night doesn’t hold the same excitement for me as it used to.”

“And there is a large pool of young, intelligent, able-bodied men who are standing in line waiting to do it,” Hubbard continues. “It’s time for me to step aside and let them do it.”

Three decades

Three decades has brought multiple changes to the fire department.

Hubbard was hired by then-Chief Howard T. Mattison, who is credited with turning the BFD from a small-town department to a professional fire service. West Brattleboro’s Station 2 was constructed on his watch. With Hubbard’s retirement, Chief Michael Bucossi becomes the last Mattison hire standing.

The use of air packs — self-contained breathing apparatuses — is one of the biggest changes Hubbard has seen during his time in the department. The canisters, which look and operate similarly to SCUBA divers’ air tanks, allow firefighters in burning buildings to breathe clean air for 30 minutes to an hour.

Which is connected to the second big change Hubbard has seen in 37 years: building materials. With more items covered in fire retardants, more plastics, and other synthetic materials, firefighters run the risk of breathing in more toxins.

Cars, too, are made of less metal and more plastic and fiberglass than in previous years, he said. They burn faster than when he started in the service.

The auto industry and firefighting service aren’t always on the same page regarding safety, Hubbard said. What is “safe” in an accident isn’t always “safe” for the firefighter or rescue worker responding to the accident, he said.

What he will miss

Hubbard is clear about what he will miss about the BPD.

“The guys,” he said. “The brotherhood.”

According to Hubbard, firefighting throughout the country — and maybe, he guesses, across the world — is a family.

“Firefighting is truly a brother and sisterhood,” he said. “We are a very close-knit family within the service and within the departments.”

Hubbard’s love for the department drove him to seek promotions through lieutenant up to captain. He said he loved the job so much he wanted to have more input over how emergency scenes are handled.

“I am going to miss these guys so badly,” he said. “But I warned them, I plan on coming down for coffee sometimes. So plan on this old guy coming by.”

Hubbard said he experienced more learning curves in his career than he could mention. People skills became a natural aspect of the job for him. He felt comfortable working with the public and addressing colleagues’ issues. He said he had experienced many of the issues his co-workers would later encounter.

There are parts of the job that will always stick with him.

“Viewing trauma and being stressed out about it — it’s always there, you always see stuff,” he said.

He’s grateful that in the past 15 to 20 years the fire service has recognized that stressors exist in the job that the average person never sees. It’s now acceptable for firefighters to ask for help.

“There’s a great network of doctors and psychologists and clinicians that is out there if we need it,” he said.

What he won’t miss about the job, are the politics. Hubbard left his statement at that: “the politics.”

Hard to say goodbye

Hubbard started in the Brattleboro Fire Department shortly after Fire Chief Michael Bucossi.

Bucossi said he and Hubbard basically followed each other from shift to shift.

“Good for him,” said the chief about Hubbard’s retirement. “He’s earned it.” But, Bucossi added, this retirement, “is a hard one for me.”

There are a number of Brattleboro firefighters who weren’t even born when Hubbard started his career.

Bucossi said he will remember Hubbard for his “passion” for the job, his fellow firefighters, his family, and his community.

“He will always be a very aggressive firefighter and he truly had the citizens of Brattleboro and the members of the department closest to his heart,” Bucossi said. “That’s what he cared about the most next to his family, was making sure everybody was safe and that everybody on the shift went home at the end of the day.”

“And with that, he’s done a very, very good job,” Bucossi added.

Hubbard was BFD’s Firefighter of the Year in 2002; he also received a Dive Team Service Award that year. His actions during the Wilder Building fire in December 2004 earned him a Meritorious Unit Citation in 2005.

Bucossi chuckled when asked about sharing stories about his years with Hubbard. There are many, he said. None of which he would tell the press or the people gathering in Station 2 for Hubbard’s retirement party.

“Overall I think it’s just his compassion for people — he truly cared about the outcome [of situations] and was really bummed out if things didn’t go according to plan,” he said. “And I think that’s how we’ll remember Ron: very passionate about getting things done the right way.”

Bucossi said he has always admired Hubbard for his frankness. “You always knew where you stood with Ron,” he said.

Bucossi admits that Hubbard’s retirement is bittersweet for him. Other than Bucossi, Hubbard is the last one to retire who was hired in the 1970s. “I’m now the old man,” said Bucossi.

Hubbard takes a large piece of institutional knowledge with him into retirement.

Hubbard also gave a lot of time to department committees like the employee building committee that represented the staff as the town developed the Police-Fire Facilities project, Bucossi said.

“It certainly will be a big hole that will be left,” Bucossi said.

Taking the good with the sad

So many memories stand out for Hubbard.

On an unhappy side, he remembers recoveries of those who had drowned.

Hubbard is credited with reviving the department’s Dive Team after its membership dwindled to four members in 1983. The team had dive gear and a “few ropes” when Hubbard got involved.

Now the team has a bus, a 24-foot pontoon boat, dry suits, masks that allow them to communicate underwater, and 12 members. All told, the team has approximately $80,000 in specialized gear.

The town has a number of waterways that are used for recreation, he said. As a result, there is a higher risk of drownings. He felt the department could provide a necessary service to the town so he took on the dive team.

“It’s important,” he said, “to bring closure to people’s tragedy.”

Hubbard was part of the dive crew that recovered the body of his niece’s boyfriend. The young man went missing after a severe thunderstorm. Hubbard delivered the painful news to his niece.

“They had a child together,” he said. “And I found him in the river drowned after three days of searching. That was a tough one.”

That “toughness” is part of serving a small community. Hubbard said he covers a lot of emergencies where if it’s not a friend he’s tending too, it’s at least an acquaintance.

The good outweighs the bad though, Hubbard said. He will always remember hanging out with the other firefighters in the evenings. And. The. Practical. Jokes.

Hubbard laughs. Oh, the jokes.

He didn’t say who pulled this prank during the tenure of Chief David Emery. But, as he remembers it, the chief loved Oreo cookies. One evening, a prankster scooped out the cream filling. It was replaced with Crest toothpaste.

The chief barely made it to the trashcan to spit it out, Hubbard said.

Hubbard laughs again.

“It’s all in the spirit of brotherly love,” he said.

And family love is close to home in the department for Hubbard.

Hubbard’s son Matthew is a member of the department.

For years, he talked about becoming a police officer, Hubbard said.

According to his dad, Matthew spent a few years with the Windham County Sheriff’s Office and then went into the military. When he left the military, Matthew surprised his dad by going to school to earn a degree in fire science.

Matthew applied to multiple fire departments. Brattleboro hired him.

“I was very proud,” Hubbard said. “[That] he was hired by the fire service, let alone here, it was great.”

He admits that he feels nervous when his son enters a burning building. Captains tend to manage the scene and not go into the fire.

“I stress out when anybody is in there because I care about all of these guys but him, especially,” he said. “It’s hard not to, it’s part of life. Kids always come first.”

Taking July off

Hubbard said he has no post-retirement plans. He will take July off completely, then see what’s what in August.

When asked what he would love to do, Hubbard grins.

“I’d love to work in a pet shop,” he said.

Hubbard keeps large saltwater aquariums as a hobby.

He’s a little tired of being responsible for other people’s lives.

“If I — or any of the guys — mess up, someone could die,” he said. “I don’t want to [worry about] that anymore.”

Firefighting is an incredible career, Hubbard said. He would urge anyone who loves firefighting to jump in and do it.

“You’ll get out of it what you put into it, so put a lot into it,” he said. “But, do not do it thinking it’s going to be about glory.”

“Because it is not,” he continued. “It’s grimy, it’s dirty, sad, and scary.”

When asked what Hubbard wants to be remembered for, he thinks.

“I’d like to be remembered for making the ... department ... just a little bit better,” he said. “That’s sappy.”

Then he grins.

“I’d like to be remembered for being the fun captain to work for.”

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