BRATTLEBORO—The firefighters, town staff, and guests of the Brattleboro Fire Department delivered a fond farewell to Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch last week.
Before expressing his gratitude in a short speech, an emotional Lynch said, “I have no idea if I will get through this or not. If it gets bad, pull the fire alarm.”
Lynch is leaving the department after 32 years — nine as assistant fire chief — to become the Chief of Fire Service Training for the State of Vermont at the Vermont Fire Academy.
As chief of training, Lynch will oversee the operation and delivery of fire-related courses. The job has less to do with teaching and more with development, such as creating curriculum, designing classes and training plans, and, in Lynch’s words, helping to “set the tone for where the fire service training is going for the next five, 10, or 20 years.”
Training for the fire service includes chemistry, science, people management, and community relations, Lynch explained.
“It’s definitely not just putting water on a fire, it’s so much more than that,” he said.
‘Selfless, dedicated, and driven’
In an interview with The Commons, Lynch said there was no “one reason” he joined the fire department.
“I always had a desire to help people,” he said. “I really found a spot that was good for me and, I hope, over the years was good for the community.”
The department held a going away party for Lynch on Aug. 26. Firefighters — many of whom had worked in Brattleboro — traveled from towns in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Lynch’s wife Julia and his daughter Maddy, plus his brother and mother, also attended.
Comments from attendees ranged from the playful to the serious.
Former Brattleboro Fire Alarm Superintendent Dale Shipp scheduled a return trip from his Maine vacation so that he could attend the party.
“Don’t believe anything [Lynch] says,” Shipp teased.
Fire Chief Michael Bucossi described Lynch as “selfless, dedicated, and driven.”
“He’s always trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Fire Chief Michael Bucossi listed Lynch’s accomplishments and volunteer work including being active in the Windham County Firefighters Association, serving on a local mapping and internet committee, and teaching at the Windham Regional Career Center.
Awards and honors
Lynch has also received a number of awards and honors, including Brattleboro Firefighter of the Year, a community service award, and an Honorable Service Award for his efforts on the town’s School Crisis Emergency Response Plan.
Town Manager Peter Elwell noted in a separate interview that the state has recommended Brattleboro’s school crisis plan as a model for other communities.
Elwell said Lynch showed commitment and care for every aspect of his job — even the less pleasant parts, such as his duties as town health officer.
“That’s why your career has been so outstanding,” Elwell said.
In a side conversation, Bucossi summed up working with Lynch as almost “10 years reading each other’s minds.”
Lynch was promoted to assistant fire chief in 2007.
Along with joking with guests, Lynch spoke at the party and in a separate interview with The Commons about the friendships and professional relationships he had built with fellow firefighters, town staff, and citizens over 32 years.
Lynch joined the West Dummerston Fire Department at age 17. He joined the Brattleboro Fire Department in 1984.
“Any time you can help somebody, there’s great satisfaction in doing that,” Lynch said. “That has never gotten old for me.”
Early in his career, Lynch said fighting fires felt exciting. Now, he’s happier when he hears that a smoke detector roused sleeping residents, or a sprinkler system extinguished a fire early, or a firefighter returns from a call talking about how his training helped save a life.
In Lynch’s opinion, the department’s fire prevention program has helped reduce the number of fires.
“There are enough times when there are bad things,” Lynch added.
Lynch hesitated when asked what advice he’d give his fellow firefighters.
“I think you can learn from every situation,” whether the outcome is good or bad, he said. He stressed the importance of respecting people and never discounting another’s thoughts or opinions.
“Do the right thing, do a job well, and move on,” he continued.
Speaking from experience
During his going-away ceremony, Lynch offered more-specific words of wisdom to his fellow firefighters:
1. In regards to filling out paperwork, when in doubt, the size of the building is 30-by-30.
2. “Now,” means this minute. “Now!” Means you should have known two minutes ago.
3. A two-and-a-half inch hose is not an ornament.
4. Never say to one’s fire truck driver: “$10 if we get the first water on the fire.”
5. Three eggs for omelets, never for brownies.
6. The use of expletives while barking orders at a fire scene is OK provided they are not used in front of a line of spectators who have just walked out of church.
7. When someone calls 9-1-1, “to them it’s an emergency.”
His thoughts were met with a round of applause.
“I am a product of your hard work and I will not forget that,” Lynch added.
Lynch said his new job came looking for him.
The state Fire Academy asked Lynch to interview for the training position, he said.
“If you’d asked me six weeks ago if I’d ever leave [the Brattleboro Fire Department],” Lynch said. “I would have told you, no, I’m staying here until I retire.”
But then Lynch learned that his name made the Fire Academy’s interview list through a state-wide peer-nomination process.
Lynch said he has helped educate fellow firefighters and citizens in fire safety for most of his professional life.
“This feels like a good fit,” Lynch said of his new job.
He said he has worked with most of the people at the Fire Academy over his career and looks forward to working with them again.
“That really excites me,” he said.
A joint decision
According to Lynch, the Fire Academy is a small group of full- and part-time staff. The Academy has reached a point where it needs to identify the direction the fire service’s training must take to raise it to the next level.
The job requires a lot of traveling, Lynch continued. When not on the road, Lynch said, he will work out of the Academy’s office in Pittsford — approximately 9 miles north of Rutland — and out of his home in West Dummerston.
Staying in the area was a must for Lynch and his family.
Still, Lynch adds, “It wasn’t a terribly easy decision.”
Lynch said he and wife Julia decided together that he would take the new job. Their daughter, Maddy, is a senior in high school, Lynch said, adding, “Family first.”
“Julia stands beside me everyday and keeps me well grounded,” he said. “She is unequalled in her strength.”
When asked if any memories stand out from his time in Brattleboro, Lynch said he wouldn’t know where to start.
He also shied away from thanking people out of fear he’d forget someone.
“How do I possibly thank 32 years’ [worth] of people who genuinely helped me get to where I am today?” he asked.
With a laugh, Lynch said the only emergency call he wants to get before leaving the Brattleboro Fire Department is to a tractor trailer rollover on Interstate 91.
“A tractor trailer full of cake,” he said with a grin. “Pound cake, carrot cake, chocolate cake...I’d even settle for a van filled with Carvel ice cream cake.”