Please join us in celebrating the return of Patch Q&A: a feature in which we allow you to get to know the movers and shakers that help make Easton tick.
Today we'll feature Easton Fire Chief Kevin Partridge, .
Patch: Why did you decide to become a firefighter?
Partridge: I was 17 years old and I had an interest. I didn’t have anyone in my family who was in it but for some reason I had an interest in being a firefighter when I saw fire trucks drive by as a kid.
I found out about the fire department I lived in in Swansea. It was volunteer and I had to be 18. So, in the meantime, I got into an EMT training class and got an EMT license. Before I got the license I did get in as a volunteer in Swansea.
From there, it took off. I started going to different schools and getting different trainings and I heard about volunteer training program in Rhode Island, so I got into that and got my Firefighter 1 Certification.
I ended up going to school for engineering and then changed course and started taking fire science programs. After I got my EMT I was on in Swansea for two years and heard about a job in the town of Berkley. I applied and in a week I got a call saying ‘when can you start?’
Patch: What made you decide to pursue the Chief job in Easton after serving as Director of Homeland Security for the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services?
Partridge: I missed being on a fire department. The job I had was interesting and you got to do a lot of different things with it. I still had some involvement in fire departments but it wasn’t really like it is being on a department and being a chief. Between Berkley and Avon I had been a chief for almost 15 years and I missed it.
So, I had been looking for a while at different jobs that came open and the one here kind of fit. I wouldn’t have to relocate. It was a good department and a good sized department and money was also comparable to what I was making. I gave it a shot and it paid off.
Patch: How have you liked Easton so far since you’ve been here?
Partridge: Tremendously. It’s a great department. The guys have been great. It’s definitely a busy community with a big population that keeps the department very active.
So, we have some challenges with staffing and overtime. Keeping the equipment up has been a challenge because it has been used quite frequently.
Patch: What has been the biggest challenge since you’ve been here?
Partridge: One of the things I wanted to try to do is communicate well and effectively with everyone. I believe I’ve done that. I have open communication with all the members from the officers right down to the firefighters to let them know ‘here’s what’s happening with your department.’
I’m getting good feedback both internally and externally from people who aren’t in the department that the firefighters seem to be happy and the morale is good. They’re happy that the department is moving forward in a good direction.
Patch: How difficult has it been to deal with a limited budget in the department?
Partridge: The difficult part has been trying to get all of the members of the department to understand that the town has a definitive budget with the amount of money we can work with and each department is given their share and to get them to understand that we all have our part of trying to make things work.
With the money that we’re given we’re trying to make it all balance out and we’re trying to keep the apparatus’ and ambulances staffed and keep everything running. If we don’t have good equipment that’s running, it doesn’t matter how many guys I have so I need to balance that and for the most part they all understand and are contributing to help.
Patch: What has been the biggest single event you’ve dealt with since taking over?
Partridge: We’ve had several fires in town. We’ve had . We had the . We’ve had numerous severe accidents. Mid-flight has been in here at least a half a dozen times.
It has quieted down a little bit after a Burning season is over and we have a good green canopy on the trees so hopefully things will stay quiet.
So, there’s been no real major incident but we’re pretty busy. Things have been pretty consistent.
Patch: What will be the Fire Department’s biggest challenge to deal with in the next four or five years?
Partridge: Some of the short-term goals that I’ve set is to get the staffing levels of each of the [four] groups up to nine in the next couple of years. This year we’re fortunate enough that we’re going to. If Town Meeting goes well we’ll get those people hired as soon as possible and then try for two more next year. That’s each group up to nine and then my plan would be to try to look at getting the Deputy Chief position back. There was one about 10 years ago now. It was not filled at that time.
That would give us a good administrative staff with Chief, Deputy Chief and a Fire Prevention Officer. There’s a lot going on in the administrative side to run things. The Deputy would also oversee the training on the fire investigation side.
My short-term major focus is to try to get that staffing up and in doing so to get that second ambulance staffed on a regular basis.
In the next nine to 12 months, we’re going to move our dispatchers over to police and that would free up one of our firefighters off of the desk . That would allow me to put that extra body on the street, so with the new positions we’re hiring, when we’re at full staffing, we’ll be able to staff that second ambulance.
We do a lot of mutual aid requests for ambulances in town. If the department can cover those all of our revenue now going to other departments for ambulances can now come here and hopefully allow us to build our revenue.
Our long term goal would be to 11 per shift; a shift commander and then 10 members on the shift.
Patch: What else have you been working on since you became chief?
Partridge: We initially did a cleanup of all the stations. We went right through them all, cleaned them up, organized everything and I’m working on getting the stations painted through the Department. of Corrections. The State Department of Correction is going to do one and the Bristol County Sherriff’s Department is going to another one for us. The DPW is going to paint the exterior of . We’re working on a landscaping project at with two Eagle Scouts.
In the inside, you’ve got to have pride in where you are and try to keep the place looking good and I want to try to do the same on the exterior.
But, the stations are old. We are going to look at a plan on what to do with , reconstruct that, add on to it, or build brand new, but these other two stations; they need an infusion of some capital money to bring them up. They have not had the upkeep that they should get and I’m hopefully going to try to get some of that money so we don’t have to replace them.
Patch: Are you in Easton for the long haul?
Partridge: I’m in this for the long haul. I hope to retire here, so another 8-10 years.
Patch: When you retire in 8-10 years, what do you hope to leave as a legacy?
Partridge: I want to leave the department with adequate staffing to handle the public safety needs of the fire and ambulances, good apparatus and equipment and three good stations.
The biggest thing is, I hope all the guys have pride and enjoy working for the Easton Fire Department. That’s part of anyone’s job is you’ve got to enjoy what you do in coming to work. And if they do, they’re going to go out there and do a good job in treating the residents of the town. It will be my job to give them the tools to do their job.
Patch: What do you want the people of Easton to know?
Partridge: The people should know that they have a very good fire department. They’re well trained. I hope the community continues to support them and give them the tools and equipment they need.