PEPPERELL — If ever there was a need for a sit-down roast beef dinner, last Friday’s Fire Department awards banquet at VFW Post 3291, prepared and served by the Lions Club, must rank near the top.
Many of those present had spent the day fighting ice and downed electric lines while they checked on the well-being of residents, their vehicles at the ready if needed. Sometimes they were.
There had been a serious chimney fire and, shortly before the awards dinner, a mother with two children ignored the “street closed” sign and had to be rescued from the roof of their car on flooded Shirley Street. During the awards ceremony, a call came in about a basement fire with one person reportedly trapped.
“All firefighters who have not been drinking, leave the building now,” master of ceremonies Deputy Fire Chief Peter Shattuck commanded.
Minutes later the call was canceled. The emergency was just a smoking furnace and could be handled by those on duty.
“That’s how it goes. Not all calls are a 100 percent tragedy in a small town,” Shattuck told the crowd, yet those calls all need to be answered and often there are very few staffers available to do so.
“It’s been an extraordinary year, with people doing a lot of stuff for the fire service and the town,” Shattuck continued. “I really, really appreciate what you folks do. And without people in surrounding towns helping, we’d be in a mess. It’s scary,” he said. “The (Fire Department) alone is getting very experienced in doing all we can to save taxpayer dollars.”
Rep. Robert Hargraves, one of several guests in a list that included Selectmen Chairman Lyndon Johnson and town administrator Robert Hanson, voiced a big thank you to emergency services.
“All of you are to be congratulated,” Hargraves said. “I know you’re in the middle of seeing that people are warm and fed. You can’t do better than that.”
Shattuck introduced each participant present from a list of “those who gave many years to the town.” Included were retired chief Richard Malley, retired deputy chief Paul Straitiff, retired chief Costa Bozicas and former chief and current Board of Health member John Marriner (“although he’s not really retired a true Pepperellite”).
He also introduced retired deputy chief Jim Straitiff (“who helped fight the chimney fire”) and retired fire chief Tom Tierney, describing him as “one of the most significant parts of Pepperell fire history who taught me the book, read it and lived it.”
Also acknowledged were Brookline fire Chief Charlie Corey, Dunstable fire Chief Charlie Rich (“a friend and a brother”), retired fire captain Ron Winch, retired lieutenant Leo Lamy (“one of the most loyal of lieutenants”), retired firefighter Al Harris (“one of the most noble men, who knows more history than the library”), former electrical inspector Louis Shattuck, and retired highway surveyor Kim Spaulding.
Retired long-time firefighters Roy Pena and Garry Ricard were also recognized. Ricard was presented a commemorative bust of a firefighter for his service.
Shattuck saluted a “very helpful” Lyndon Johnson and Hanson as a “respectful listener at all times,” former highway mechanic Milt Starr who, even though he lost his job, remains ready to help, and Emergency Management Director George Ux, who has “done it all for nothing (no cost).”
Years-of-service pins were presented by their respective company captains, some accompanied by certificates of appreciation from the state fire marshall’s office.
The list included Peter Quintin (25 years of service), Peter Shattuck (30), Garry Ricard (30), Lt. Christopher Thielbar (25), Kurtis Triehy (5), Jonathan Kinney (10), and William Butts (15). The fire marshall’s office acknowledged Peter Quintin (15), Steven Symonds (15), Thielbar, Peter Shattuck, and firefighter then captain then deputy chief James Taplin.
An evocative slide show set to music was presented by the EMS Company, at once humorous (set to the theme from “Love Boat”), epic, with smoky, fire-filled scenes (set to “Highway to the Danger Zone”) and heroic lifesaving scenes (set “We Are the Champions”).
Special awards were presented to Fire Department secretary Susan Smith (“someone without whom the department couldn’t run”) and the ladies fire auxiliary, with both given blank checks for dinner at Scotch Pine Farm Restaurant.
“There are a lot of ladies in this house tonight who’ve spent countless hours, for years, with us,” Shattuck said. “This weekend, they were there all the time. We didn’t expect lunch. We had anything we wanted. There are some people who are (priceless).”
There was also humor, as new firefighter Derek Franzek, son of Engine Company Lt. Dana Franzek, was given a container of Easy Mac & Cheese and a wall sign reading “dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off,” because he once left dinner on the stove to answer a fire call, which filled his home with smoke.
Newly appointed Ladder Company captain and S.A.F.E. officer Mike Blood gratefully acknowledged the volunteerism of Capt. John Rose and firefighters Timothy Morine and Robert Archer for help with the Student Awareness of Fire Emergency program.
Blood moved up in rank when Taplin was named deputy chief. “I’ve tried my hardest for the guys who chose me,” Blood said.
Firefighter of the Year was awarded to firefighter Thomas Shattuck and EMT of the Year to firefighter/EMT Kurtis Triehy.
“I can’t be more proud to work with this command. I’m proud to belong to a group of people getting the job done,” Shattuck said. “The last 48 hours has been absolutely crazy. I appreciate all the guys and ladies who’ve helped.”