Reprinted with permission from the pages of the Country Journal, August 31, 2006
by Lisa Connell
Labrie takes helm as first female fire chief
GOSHEN – Firefighters enjoy a sense of camaraderie and familial friendship – that feeling was evident during the Aug. 28 swearing in ceremony in the John James Memorial Hall for the state’s first female fire chief, Sue Labrie.
While the honor is momentous, most people here know Labrie as a modest, hard working, idealistic person, who is easy to talk to, and is a devoted wife to fellow firefighter Bob Labrie and the mother of three, Hannah, Alyssa and Sarah.
During the ceremony, the town hall was filled with Labrie’s family, along with distinguished guests including State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan, the chiefs and firefighters of neighboring towns, Rep. Stephen Kulik and townsfolk.
However, the ceremony was not just for Labrie. It was also an official changing of the guard involving retiring Fire Chief Francis Dresser, who has well over a half century of service to the town.
Chairman of the Goshen Firefighters Association Stephen Mollison presented Dresser with a large framed picture of the Goshen Fire Department family that was taken during a department picnic, and will later be autographed by everyone. Mollison said, “You surely will be missed. We hope this memento will hang on your wall and remind you. And whenever you want to come to visit us at the station, you’re more than welcomed.”
Master of Ceremonies and Goshen Firefighter Anthony “Tommy” Thomas added that the very first fire chief was Tom Barrus, who often said “The greatest thing I ever did as chief was quit so Francis could be chief.”
Retiring Fire Chief Francis Dresser pins a gold badge on newly-appointed Fire Chief Sue Labrie and a swearing in ceremony that was held at the John James Memorial Hall.
Later Dresser pinned the gold fire chief’s badge on Labrie, and with his typical humor told the crowd, “I wish to congratulate Sue. I think if I did nothing else right I did a good job in both getting her into the department and training her to this point. She deserves a lot of credit, but I do a little.”
State Fire Marshall Stephen Coan said of Labrie being the first woman in the state to be chosen as fire chief, “It’s really a momentous moment for the Commonwealth,” and, “I’m pleased it [her appointment] happened on my watch.” He added that he agreed with the sentiments of the Selectboard that were quoted in a local newspaper that her appointment was, “not about gender but about professionalism.”
State Fire Marshall Stephen Coan presents Chief Labrie with her "Delegation of Authority" certificate.
He then presented her with the “Delegation of Authority,” the official authority of the State Fire Marshal that he delegates to every fire chief in the state. It gives Labrie the authority to carry out her job.
Chesterfield Fire Chief Gilman Smith, who also represented what Thomas called the “Mutual Aid Chiefs,” said, “I’m sure I can echo the feeling of all the area chiefs that Sue is going to be a great asset not only to Goshen but to us too.”
Thomas said, “Firefighters to God’s work and we do. They’re always there to help. They truly wear the white hats. Some of you may not know that when Francis was fighting in the Pacific he made a promise to God that if He would see him through the Pacific theater he would come back and do something good for mankind. No one can deny that he hasn’t done that job.”
He added about Labrie, “This was pre-ordained for Sue to take over. Francis had gotten her to join the fire department. Sue is a religious person. And I believe God has ordained that she take over. Now to back that up, Sue takes over this week. The last of her children starts school next week. It all goes together.”
Afterwards Labrie, who took the official oath from Town Clerk Vanessa Fish, said, “I’m taken aback by the amount of people who turned out. I thank you all. I hope to do the Department proud. I have a lot of plans. So Department, get ready for it. Francis – I still have your number. I hope to make everybody proud.”
On the job for about a week so far, Labrie has opened up a post office box for the Department, plans to create a more formal chain of command, keep on top of the ICS training, keep on teaching the S.A.F.E. program to the children, and pursue grants.
Being a fire chief, let alone the state’s first female chief, is going to have it’s challenges, but one thing Labrie has established during her years on the Goshen Fire Department is goodwill among her fellow firefighters both in town and the surrounding towns. When firefighters are asked their opinions, they are genuinely adamant that she has their support.
The fire chief of the biggest abutting town, Don Lawton of Williamsburg, says Labrie has his full support, and while he was helping to man the S.A.F.E. trailer at the Cummington Fair with Labrie, he said of the Chief’s job, “It’s fun but every day is a challenge. Just take it one day at a time, one person at a time.”
Williamsburg Firefighter John Pope said, “Give people the opportunity to prove themselves.”
Labrie agreed saying it’s her philosophy to make everyone, “feel like they are contributing to the department.”
This is one reason why the Goshen Selectmen – Kevin Lacey, Joe Dunn and Larry Miller – said they chose Labrie for Chief. While all three candidates who applied for the job were highly qualified and could run the department, they chose her with an eye to the future in both keeping the department up-to-date and recruiting badly needed volunteers.
However, making the final decision was not easy, Selectman Miller said of all the candidates, “All three could have run the department. It was a very tough choice.”
(Thursday, August 31, 2006)