WINCHESTER - Fire Chief John Nash of the Winchester Fire Department will be retiring on Oct. 18 after being at the fire department for over 45 years and serving as chief for 21 years. During his time at the fire department, he appreciated “working in an environment where there were a lot of people and there was a certain amount of unpredictably to the job and it was always rewarding serving the community.”
Chief Nash, a Winchester resident, started at the Winchester Fire Department as a call firefighter while attending Northeastern University with the intentions of getting a degree in business. To pay tuition, he took a job as a call firefighter. His dad had also been a firefighter for 32 years so he was familiar with the job.
Chief Nash was welcomed into the fire department with a beehive of activity on Jan. 15, 1974. Chief Nash explained that upon arriving at the fire station it was very eventful as they were cleaning up all of their equipment from a 3-alarm fire that occurred earlier that morning. He was a call firefighter for about 18 months while he was in school and then when he finished school he started full time with the department.
He worked through the ranks of the fire department and became a paramedic after his time as a call firefighter. He was promoted through the ranks in the department and once he became chief one of his main missions was to advance the department’s ambulance service to advanced life support which would require the hiring of paramedics to staff the ambulances. The department has accomplished just that and has been providing the community with advanced life support services since 2005. Chief Nash noted that the department is now comprised of 50 percent paramedics.
In 1977, he was able to convince the town that they should have an ambulance service in the fire department which was a major milestone for the fire department. Chief Nash said that incidents of fires were starting to decline and emergency medical responses were increasing.
He made a deal with former State Representative Harrison Chadwick that he had to be elected as a Town Meeting member and then Chadwick would help him get an ambulance into the fire department. Chief Nash went door to door in his neighborhood and got a sufficient number of votes to become a Town Meeting member. Chadwick used his influence to convince the town that an ambulance should be placed within the fire department. On July 1 of 1977 Chief Nash proudly drove the ambulance into the fire station.
Chief Nash learned a lot as a fire chief. He remembered that the transition from being a shift captain to a fire chief was very different. A shift captain works a 24-hour shift and responds to fires and medical calls. He stated it is always exciting and an adrenaline rush when dealing directly with the public regularly. On the other hand, a fire chief is responsible for the department's personnel, budget, equipment, and the policies the firefighters work under and only responds to larger fires. He noted it was a bit of a transition but over time he was able to accomplish many of the things that he had set out to do.
During Chief Nash's career, several people were mentors to him. He indicated that “without the people that worked in the department, the firefighters, the paramedics and the people that I’ve worked with over the years I could not have achieved any measure of success.”
His greatest achievement at the fire department as fire chief was the transition from basic life support to advanced life support as it sustained the department. In turn, his biggest challenge overall in the department was the recruiting and retaining of fire personnel. The main reason for that he stated was their peer departments pay a higher salary than Winchester so several of their firefighters had left the department to go to other departments at a higher rate of pay.
Over the last 10 years, 30 paramedics have left the department at a cost for training and salaries of more than $1.5 million. He commented that the department continues to struggle to hire new firefighters and the process is time-consuming. Since Winchester is part of the Massachusetts Civil Service System, they provide the Winchester Fire Department with a list of qualified candidates. They then hire them, train them in house and then send them to the state Fire Academy where they receive 10 weeks of formal fire training before returning to Winchester.
Chief Nash stated the process is very expensive because they are paying their salaries during that time and paying overtime to replace positions that are missing when a person leaves.
The community of Winchester is a unique one, indicated Chief Nash. He said that it has no commercial base and has affluent residents in some parts of the community who are very tight as well as other residents who are rather transient. He stated that there are people in the community that move in for the school system and then leave when their children graduate from high school.
His advice to a new firefighter just starting is to stay in school, promote through the department when available and to take advantage of every training opportunity to be better at the job to keep themselves and fellow firefighters safe.
After he retires, Chief Nash will take a short time off and then do consulting work in the fire protection field. He is hoping to work with Metro Fire.
Chief Nash affirmed that there is no word on who the new fire chief will be. Winchester has a committee and has hired a consultant to conduct an assessment to find the best candidate and the appointment will be then made by the Town Manager.
Personally, within the department, Chief Nash has enjoyed the interaction with the fire department staff, the towns department heads and his fellow fire chiefs in the Metro Fire district. He is most proud of the firefighters and the work they perform every single day. He will miss being involved with the day to day interaction with not only the fire department staff but also the members of the Winchester community.