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Deep thanks offered to Chief Dresser - Gazette - 10/23/2006


Deep thanks offered to Chief Dresser

Used by permission.  Copyright GazetteNET.com

By SEAN REAGAN Staff Writer

NORTHAMPTON - More than 150 firefighters and rescue personnel and their families gathered at the Florence Elks Lodge last week to honor retired Goshen Fire Chief Francis S. Dresser, who stepped down this year after 55 years of service.

'I had asked them not to do this and they did it anyway,' Dresser said with a smile Thursday. 'I didn't know I had this many friends. I'm really overwhelmed.'

Dresser was appointed chief in 1951, when he was 26 years old. He held the post until he was 81.

For decades, emergency calls were routed through the Dresser family home. Fran's wife, Ruth Mollison Dresser, who was also honored Thursday, was the dispatcher.

Dresser, a man notorious for avoiding the spotlight, was at long last forced to sit through an evening of praise and gratitude. Some of the accolades were leavened with humor. Goshen's first ambulance, acquired in 1956 largely at Dresser's insistence, was known as 'the green beetle.'

Heartfeld thanks

But for the most part, the speakers offered only heartfelt thanks. They expressed their awe at Dresser's longevity and the family's commitment to volunteer emergency services and bore witness to the number of lives Dresser touched in the Hilltowns.

'Fran Dresser is a father, a husband, a chief and a friend,' said Dr. George Deering, who credited Dresser with starting him on the road to emergency medical care.

Deering choked up as he said that Dresser, 'more than anyone else I know, is a very good man.'

A slide show ran through dinner, showing Dresser at various stages in his life.

There was the picture of him as a Goshen elementary school student in the 1930s. There was the shot of him in uniform before shipping off with the U.S. Army's 96th infantry division to fight in the South Pacific in World War II.

There were pictures of Dresser reading to his three children - Kip, Kim and Kit - and to his four grandchildren. There were shots of him at fire department fund-raisers, pipe clenched firmly in teeth.

His hair got whiter as the pictures progressed through the years, but his back was always ramrod straight, and the gleam in his eye never wavered.

'This man didn't tail off at the end,' said Cummington Fire Chief Bernard Forgea. 'He didn't do a thing differently at the end than he did at the beginning.'

Susan Labrie, appointed by Goshen selectmen to fill Dresser's shoes as fire chief, recalled how Dresser persuaded her and her husband to join the Fire Department soon after they moved to Goshen. It fast became, said Labrie, 'a wonderful extended family.'

'I don't think that I'll be able to do half of what you've done in your life,' she said to Dresser.

'One more thing'

Dresser relaxed his longstanding tradition of not talking about himself and answered questions after dinner. With Ruth at his side, he said that his only regret was that his family had to make a lot of sacrifices through the years.

'But there was always one more thing that I wanted to do,' he said.

Dresser said that he expects Hilltown firefighting will eventually regionalize, much as ambulance service has. He said that paperwork and insurance costs have made the job more onerous, a farther cry from the days when 'all you were trying to do was help your neighbors.'

But firefighting and community service are in his blood, and he swore that retirement won't change that.

'I'm like the old fire horse,' he said. 'Every time you hear the bell, you start to prance. I'm not crawling in a hole here. I'm going to stay involved in things.'

(Monday, October 23, 2006)