WILMINGTON, Mass. — For 35 years, reporting to the Fire Department has been an incredible experience for Fire Chief Rick McClellan. But come Jan. 12, McClellan will be stepping away to enjoy retirement.
McClellan, now 60, remembers the date he began in the department — Oct. 18, 1982. That day he responded to his first fire — a brush fire along railroad tracks. Ed Bradbury, chief at the time, responded with McClellan.
“We rode in an open cab, no roof. Luckily it was a nice day. He was driving and I was riding,” McClellan recalled. “We were the third truck going there and I knew from that point that’s what I wanted to do, and it was just a simple brush fire.”
McClellan said he was excited by the sound of the sirens, the truck, the fire and getting the train to come through slowly.
From a young age, he knew he wanted to be where the action was.
He was also inspired by his father-in-law, Richard “Dick” Morris, who was a firefighter and selectman in Tewksbury for years. In addition, his brother-in-law Bill Dalton was a Chelmsford firefighter and selectman. And the family tradition continues. McClellan’s son, Adam McClellan, has been a firefighter in Lexington for 10 years.
After 35 years, McClellan said he still loves coming to work, but he is looking forward to traveling and spending time with his family. In addition to his son, he’s got the company of his three grandchildren (10-month old Charlotte, 3-year-old Owen and 10-year-old Colin), his daughter, Kiley, and his wife, Kathy, to enjoy.
“One of the things I’m not going to miss is throughout the years my family has supported me not being there for birthdays, holidays,” he said. “Always listening to the scanner and just being nervous about what’s going on. I think that’s the truth for every firefighter’s family.”
McClellan also is looking forward to completing home projects he has been putting off for years, including landscaping the yard and replacing the cellar stairs.
“I’m just looking forward to the next chapter and I have no idea what it’s going to be,” he said. “And I won’t have to wear a watch.”
Over the years, McClellan said there has been a steady progression of changes and advancements in the department. When he began it was common to ride in trucks that had no roof, firefighters were allowed to ride in the back of the trucks and when responding to an incident, only the officer had a portable radio. New technology, like self-contained breathing apparatus and thermal imaging cameras have made it a lot safer for the firefighters and the community.
“Back then, we didn’t have the training nor the equipment that we currently have, and we had more fires,” he said. “I really wonder what else is next as far as equipment or training or just what the fire service is going to be asked to do.”
McClellan was became a training lieutenant in 2007 and in 2012 he became deputy chief. He succeeded Bradbury in 2014.
Lt. Bill Cavanaugh said as a day lieutenant he has worked closely with the chief over the years. Once McClellan began, Cavanaugh said he brought with him an increased morale.
“He came in and immediately was given a very young command staff,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s mentored us and has also given us the opportunity to make our own way and learn from experience. He has definitely helped mold the younger command staff in the department to a pretty proficient group.”
Cavanaugh added that McClellan’s forward thinking has allowed the department to benefit from new technology. On top of it all, Cavanaugh said he’s a nice guy who is fair, level-headed and does not have a vindictive bone in his body.
“He’s very good at making everyone feel comfortable and empowering everyone to do their job the best they can,” Cavanaugh said. “I like knowing that he has my back if I need him.”
There are six candidates up for the chief’s position, all of whom McClellan say are definitely qualified to lead the department. His message to the incoming chief, who is likely to be named in early January, is to enjoy the job because it goes by quickly.
“There’s not a lot of people who can after they retire say they were the chief of any fire department,” McClellan said. “It’s just been a privilege.”
Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com