Selectmen Honor Three Fire Department Retirees
Thank Firemen for long-time service to town
BY TOM REILLY
Three longtime firefighters— Robert (Knick) Nunnemacher, Donald Conlon and James Chestna—were honored by the selectmen on the occasion of their retirement from the Sutton Fire Department. Kevin Geraghty acknowledged the overflow crowd by noting that it was rare to have even three people show up for a selectmen’s meeting, let alone the assemblage of family, friends and fellow firefighters from Sutton and surrounding towns that caused the meeting room divider to be opened for the first time in this reporter’s 13 year memory.
The selectmen began by reading a certificate of recognition for each man. John Hebert read the certificate honoring Nunnemacher for an incredible 53 years of service, rising to the rank of captain and serving out of the Center Station. Rick Hersom read the citation honoring Conlon’s 25 years service out of the Wilkinsonville Station, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Lastly, Ken Stuart read the proclamation honoring firefighter James Chestna’s 13 years in the Sutton Fire Department.
Mike Chizy said it was kind of a sad day when three firefighters all leave on the same day. He added that he knew Nunnemacher and Conlon for years, but Chestna not as well, though he had heard good things about him. He noted that Nunnemacher had served more years than the chronological age of many of the firefighters in the room. He said it would be hard to replace these men, noting that Nunnemacher had been on several fire truck committees and he had served the town in other capacities as well. Nunnemacher is also currently the chairperson of the Board of Assessors.
Chizy wished all three a happy retirement on behalf of the town.
Hebert said it was an honor to recognize all three men, but he singled out his neighbor Nunnemacher as a role model for the fire department, especially in terms of training. Hebert, the former police chief, said he had wanted to put in 50 years of public service, but now he was determined to go even longer to try and beat Nunnemacher’s record.
Hersom said that words could not express the town’s debt to these men. He said he had served as a call firefighter in another town and he knew that the three men didn’t do it for the money or the recognition. “Everything that you gave you gave selflessly, you’ve helped others and you’ve inspired others to walk in your footsteps,” said Hersom, adding that he was very appreciative about everything that they had done.
Stuart said the men had shown a tremendous commitment to the town and to keeping it safe. He joked that their families no doubt had a laundry list of things for them to do after all the years they spent as call firefighters.
Geraghty said he didn’t want to repeat what the other selectmen had already said, but there was no amount of gratitude the town could give that could match what these men had done on the fire department. He said the firefighters were the ones who stood on the wall and risked their lives to help people in trouble. “Whatever happens, you guys are there as a force, as people in a role that is 100 percent helping your neighbors, helping the community and there’s no amount of money or gratitude that can weigh that out,” said Geraghty. He said the selectmen appreciated all they did and that even in a small way they had a chance to recognize the men for all they had done.
Fire Chief Paul Maynard told the men to look around the room and see all of their brothers—their fellow firefighters—as well as family and friends. He acknowledged the presence of a contingent of Millbury firefighters led by Chief Matt Belsito as well as former Northbridge Fire Chief Connie Madigan. He said he knew Nunnemacher for a long time and that they have become friends in recent years. Maynard said on more than one occasion Nunnemacher came and talked “very strongly” to him. He praised Nunnemacher as someone with very good ideas and as a “no nonsense” and always to the point.
Maynard said Nunnemacher was someone who always knew what was going on. “Your public is here,” Maynard concluded, pointing Nunnemacher to the overflowing crowd.
Nunnemacher said that from his earliest days as a boy he heard the siren at town hall summoning call firefighters to duty and this was something he always wanted to do. He said he would have joined even earlier except that his father wanted him to get his grades up first. He said that firefighters, like policemen and highway department workers, have their own little stories and jokes that other people don’t understand. He stressed the value of doing something for the community and helping out your neighbors. Nunnemacher said many of the men in the room knew what it was like to pump out a flooded cellar on a rainy February night and to feel the gratitude of the homeowner. He talked about being summoned at 2 a.m. to fight a fire in a house or barn, working hard to save people’s property.
He worked with a good bunch of people over the years, both in Sutton and surrounding towns. He spoke of his work on various fire truck committees, trying to get vehicles that would hold up over a good many years.
Nunnemacher thanked everyone for caring, especially his fellow firefighters. He spoke of the call to serve the community even when that was sometimes difficult. He told his listeners that ultimately this service was appreciated and that he hoped that new recruits would join the fire department and continue the tradition.
Next Maynard spoke of Donald Conlon’s years of service, saying that the two of them had worked on two fire station building committees, one that had not been successful while the other had. Maynard said the two of them had “beat each other’s heads” over the years. “Don is Don and I’m me and together we make a team,” Chief Maynard said. He thanked Conlon for his service, again indicated the room filled with those who had come to honor him.
Conlon said he was a man of few words and that he wanted to thank “all of the guys on Company 3” as well as all the other men that he has worked with over the years. He spoke of how that in both good times and bad they had functioned as a team. He reminded his listeners of what he had always said: “We go down together in a ball of fire” and sat down to general applause.
Maynard called Chestna “our human ladder truck” because he puts ladders together and “goes places that he’s not supposed to.” Maynard said that Chestna came to the department “out of the blue” and that he was someone who did everything that he was asked “and a little bit more. Chestna said he tried to get onto the fire department for 15 years, but was always told that there was a long list of people ahead of him. Finally, he asked Maynard who gave him an application and he was accepted. Chestna said he valued his time on the fire department and thanked everyone for coming. Maynard then invited everyone downstairs to the fire station for a reception, inviting the selectmen to join them at the conclusion of their meeting.