The fire chief of a small town in Franklin County, Massachusetts, is retiring at the end of the month.
While that might not be big, headline news, Everett Ricketts’ tenure at the Wendell Fire Department is nothing to dismiss – 57 years, 38 of them as chief. On a visit to the Wendell Fire Station, we toured the garage.
“That’s the dump tank. You pull that out, open it up and that’ll hold 2,100 gallons of water,” Ricketts says.
That tank is on a six-man pump truck. There’s also a water tanker truck, which Ricketts claims is the largest in Franklin County. And Ricketts, who’s 77 years old, still has a wish list for his department.
“I would like another pumper,” Ricketts says. “Of course I only have a few days left anyway, but I’d like another pumper to take the place of that one.”
The department is all volunteers, even Ricketts, though he gets a stipend as chief. Everyone is on call.
“That’s why we sort of have to be better than the large city firefighters. Because in the city – like Boston, New York – everyone has a [specific] job,” he says. “We have to know all those things, not just one. we have to know everything.”
“The only thing they have over us is they’re right there when the call comes in and they have probably 8 or 10 block area. We have – in this particular town – 33 square miles to cover.”
Ricketts knows first-hand some of the differences between a big city and a tiny rural town. He grew up in Boston, and moved to Wendell in 1955 to start a pig farm with his brother.
The farm didn’t last, but Ricketts found other work at a nearby tool manufacturing company, got married, started a family and stuck around Wendell.
“They just asked if I wanted to join” the fire department, he says.
Ricketts says the equipment has changed a lot since then – for the better. But other changes haven’t pleased him quite so much.
“It’s not putting the wet stuff on the red stuff anymore. It’s putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, then you got this white stuff – which is called paperwork – that comes from the state and the fire marshall’s office,” Ricketts says. “It’s got out of hand. One thing after another. It’s so much stuff now it’s still called-upon, but you’re doing permanent department work.”
Even so, Ricketts doesn’t really want to leave the job. He says the town Selectboard recently found out that fire department workers aren’t supposed to stay on past age 65. Ricketts passed that mark a dozen years ago.
“They think because of my age I’m going to be a liability to the town,” he says. “I could get hurt on the fire ground, but so could anybody.”
Still, Ricketts proudly picked his own retirement date. He wouldn’t let anyone decide that for him.
With his firefighting days nearing an end, Ricketts doesn’t plan to do much different. He says he’s always made time to travel and explore. As his police scanner goes off in the background, he says he believes in living a full life.
“Don’t hold back,” Ricketts says. “If you want to go bowling, go bowling. If you want to buy a couch buy a couch. If you want to do something, do it. Do anything you want to do. Thats what I’ve done.”
Everett Ricketts steps down as fire chief of Wendell, Massachusetts, on February 28th.