By Tracey Dewhurst
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, April 28, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
The first in a series of articles highlighting the Hampton Fire Department
Getting Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver to talk about himself is no easy task. "I want this [article] to be about them," he tells me in his office at the Hampton Beach Fire House, referring to all the personnel of the Fire Department.
Modesty runs rampant among the entire crew. When I pull out my camera in the garage, everyone on the shift disappears like water on hot pavement. The funny thing is they would all be the first ones to help someone in the community fix a smoking electrical outlet or tackle the dangers of a basement filled with water where a sump pump is shorting out. Risking their lives to make sure someone escapes from a burning building: no problem, but talking about it, getting recognized in a photograph goes against their grain.
These guys are so bonded together that no one feels right taking any credit, not the Chief or Jim Squires, the President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Hampton who has been working for the Department since 2001. Now he sits across from the Chief and reluctantly tells me how he found his way to the profession. Growing up in Somerville as an only child with a single mother, he thinks he subconsciously craved a sense of family that he found in Hampton.
He experienced the brotherhood that exists in most fire departments as a part timer in Bedford, New Hampshire, but when he joined Hampton he found the family atmosphere he sought.
He knew he wanted to work with people who were committed to their jobs in an environment where everyone enjoyed coming to work. He hadn't found that before becoming a fire fighter. After graduating high school he worked in HVAC and plumbing, made money and paid the bills. He wanted something different, something meaningful.
"The ideology of caring about what you are doing, putting everything you have into your work, that's what these guys do," he tells me, making sure I understand its about everyone else in the Department, not him. "This job is all about the man or woman next to you. Not only do you work side by side, we break bread together, we give each other advice on home repairs, everything from how to refinance your mortgage to putting on a new roof. If a guy needs a new roof, we help him install one.... If we can help each other out in our personal lives, we can take care of each other on the fire line. And then, we can take care of any emergency in the town," Jim says, inspiring confidence in the solidarity that makes the Department so strong. When it comes to the way everyone in the Department works together, Chief Silver jumps in. "One person can't do this job alone. We have to take care of each other," he says. "When they are in a danger, they know they can rely on each other,"
He describes trust between the fire fighters as essential for success in a profession where people often put their lives at risk. The family atmosphere, the sense of belonging that Jim Squires describes, "transcends the Hampton Fire Department," according to the Chief. "There is an instant bond between fire fighters all over the country, a mutual respect. It's deep in tradition!'
While Chief Silver didn't start his career in fire prevention, the tradition was passed on to him from his Grandfather. He remembers spending hours with his Grandfather in the fire station as a young boy in Warren, Rhode Island, but chose a different career. He graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and ended up working as a Marine Engineer where he was trained in fire prevention techniques. But it wasn't until he was living in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire at 25 years old that he decided he wanted to change his life. He was going shopping in Concord with his wife, sitting at a stop light in their car and a fire engine flew by on its' way to fight a fire. He decided that was what he wanted for his life.
Hampton had an opening and he got the job, spending over fifteen years coming up the ranks before becoming Chief in 2008. Both Jim Squires and Chief Silver repeat the same sentiment about the other Hampton Fire Fighters. "Some of the best professionals and some of the best people I've ever met," Jim says. "We've been really lucky," the Chief tells me. "We do have great personnel -— not only professional and competent, but really good people." Everyone who lives on Hampton Beach or in town should feel lucky as well. "I believe the people in this community love their fire department;' the Chief says. "These are challenging economic times, but the adversity has only made the bonds among those of us in the Department stronger."