Retiring Firefighters Say Their Goodbyes

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, April 22, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Two long-time firefighters and a captain hung up their hats for the last time last week.

Capt. Russel "Rusty" Bridle along with firefighters David Weber and Robert Thompson have all said goodbye to jobs they love.

While their retirements mean two firefighters who were laid off will be able to return to work, Dave Lang, spokesman for local fire unions in Hampton, said nearly 100 years of experience, dedication and service have come to an end.

"Captain Bridle, firefighters Thompson and Weber have committed their lives to protect the citizens and visitors of the town of Hampton. They have served this community with pride and distinction."

Bridle said he decided to retire because it was time. Thompson and Weber, on the other hand, said they retired because they didn't want to see the "younger guys" without a job.

Bridle joined the department as a call firefighter in 1975. He was hired full time in 1977. In 1999, he was promoted to lieutenant and in 2001 to captain.

"I worked for the Fire Department for almost 30 years," said Bridle. "And I enjoyed going to work every single day."

Bridle said while he's looking forward to retirement, he will miss the job and his fellow firefighters.

"It's a sad time," said Bridle. "I started here in high school as a call firefighter. I've grown up with these people. I've trusted them with my life. To say goodbye and not go to work is tough. The Hampton Fire Department is the best in the state and it's because of the men who work for it."

For the last 15 years, Bridle has been responsible for fire alarm maintenance. He also helped start the Firefighter Toy Bank in Hampton.

"My last month on the job has not been fun," said Bridle, referring to the elimination of four firefighters, a deputy chief and a part-time secretary in the department.

"I'm afraid someone is going to get hurt, whether it's a resident or firefighter," said Bridle. "When you start screwing around with public safety someone gets hurt. I don't think cutting was the way to go. I think we needed an increase in firefighters and that is justified by the numbers of runs we do."

While he will continue to represent Hampton as a state representative, Bridle plans to use his extra free time with his wife and family.

"My wife has given up a lot by marrying me," said Bridle. "I had to work holidays, birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. I need to give that back to her."

Thompson joined the force as an appointed call firefighter in 1975.

That same year he became a full-time firefighter. While he wasn't planning on retiring this year, he felt he had no choice.

"Obviously with guys getting laid off, I wanted to put them back to work," said Thompson. "I had planed to retire next year but when they started letting guys go, it was the right thing to do to retire."

Thompson was honored with two Medals of Valor; one for a windsurfer rescue in 1997 and another one for pulling a unconscious girl out of the water in 1999.

He also has received two unit citations for battling two fires. He also received a citation from the Police Department.

"The Police Department was looking for a wanted sex offender," said Thompson. "I don't like those kind of people and I spotted him and they were able to get him."

Thompson said the hardest part is saying goodbye to fellow firefighters.

"It was pretty hard to leave," said Thompson. "I hated to leave in the situation that is going on right now. It's not how I wanted to go. It's like a family down there. That is one of biggest reasons I did retire. To ensure that one of the firefighters that got laid off was able to come back."

Thompson admits he's bitter about the defeat of the town's budget at the annual town election.

"Personally, I feel as if the residents turned on us, and I don't know why. It was a slap in the face."

Weber became a call firefighter in 1978 and went full time a year later.

"I could have worked three to four more years," said Weber. "But I couldn't watch one of my fellow firefighters, who gave up a lot to come here, be laid off. I put in my time, so I got out."

He said he was proud to serve the town.

"I enjoyed doing a good job and saving a few lives in the process," said Weber.

Along with being a firefighter, Weber served five years as a member of the Conservation Commission. He also built and installed more than 100 boxes for natural control of greenheads and mosquitoes and built three osprey nests.

Lang said all three will be deeply missed in the department.

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