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Woman named 1st Fire Chief - Republican - 08/24/2006


Woman Named 1st Fire Chief

Goshen selectmen said they hired a woman as chief, because she was the best candidate for the job.

© The Republican Company .  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.


Republican Photo: Mieke Zuiderweg

Volunteer firefighter Susan Labrie is appointed Goshen Fire Chief - the first female fire chief in Massachusetts - on Wednesday, August 23, 2006.

By DIANE LEDERMAN; STAFF; The Republican (Springfield, MA)

GOSHEN - This town of less than 1,000 became the first of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts to appoint a female fire chief.

Selectmen this week named Susan M. Labrie to the town's top fire post on Monday night. Labrie, 42, has been a volunteer ever since she and her husband moved here from Chicopee 17 years ago.

There were three applicants for the job to succeed Francis Dresser, who retired after more than 50 years on July 1.

Selectmen Chairman Kevin A. Lacey said hiring Labrie had nothing to do with her gender. Based on her background and experience, "We all felt she was the perfect candidate for the job" for the long term.

Labrie learned that she got the job Monday night via a text-message on her cell phone, while she was working emergency services at the James Taylor concert at Tanglewood.

"I was very happy." She said she found out that she would be the first female fire chief after she had talked to Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services. "That was an added bonus."

But, Labrie said, "I don't feel gender is an issue with fire service as long as you can pull your weight."

Labrie said she met the former fire chief when he came to inspect the house they were building. "He was talking and asked 'Did you ever thinking of joining (the volunteer force)?'" Labrie said.

Both Labrie and her husband, Robert H. Labrie, had been involved in the National Ski Patrol.

And the idea wasn't completely alien, because her brother Michael J. Gorski is a volunteer with the Hampden Fire Department. So she and her husband decided to join.

Three years ago she was named the department's first lieutenant. She said her fellow volunteers decided to recognize her for her work in the Student Awareness of Fire Education program she had been providing to school children and senior citizens.

As chief, she said there's "a lot of administrative duty, dealing with the budget, equipment maintenance." And she said there are a lot of inspections.

The position pays just under $3,000, Lacey said, just enough to cover expenses.

The department has 18 volunteers who respond to about 40 calls a year from chimney fires to bicycle and horse accidents, Labrie said. And while a private ambulance company provides transport, firefighters are first-responders.

Mieth said more women have joined fire departments since the 1970s and over the years, have risen to officers.

"It was only a matter of time" before there was a female chief.

And of Labrie she said, "She's an incredible firefighter officer."

(August 24, 2006)