By SHERIDAN CYR
After over a year without a fire chief, the Southington Fire Department and the Fire Commission finally narrowed down a lengthy list of qualified candidates and hand-picked Richard Butler, of Annapolis, Md. as Southington’s new fire chief.
“Becoming a fire chief was one of my life goals,” said the new chief. “I have been blessed to have had many mentors over the years. One of my mentors in 1994 and 1995 told me, ‘You’ve got to figure out where you want to be, and make a plan to get the knowledge, the skills, the abilities and prepare yourself,’ and I did that. I am so honored to have earned this position.”
Butler comes equipped with a long history of various levels of experience within the Annapolis Fire Department, where he was most recently employed. He began as a volunteer firefighter before he was hired as a career firefighter. He went on to become a lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, and most recently, battalion commander.
He has served as an appointed member of the Maryland Emergency Response Commission, and has also taught classes on firefighting, management, rescue, EMS and hazardous materials at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. He holds an associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University, and is currently enrolled in a master’s degree program in emergency management and fire service.
A vote by the Fire Commission on June 27 selected Butler as the new chief.
“The Fire Commission was looking for a chief with a vision for the next five to seven years and beyond—a chief who has a very good understanding of a combination fire department and all that it entails, and someone who is dedicated to the fire service and will work with the fire personnel, town officials and the community,” said commissioner John Moise. “We have found the right person to lead this department.”
Butler’s experience will be key as Southington continues to address ongoing issues between the town’s volunteers and career firefighters, as well as an overtime issue addressed by various town boards. Butler said that his first move will be to speak to every single staff and volunteer member within the department. One of the areas he wants to focus on is communication.
“I want to know what they view as the problems,” he said. “I want to know what I can do to improve the life of the staff and volunteers.”
Butler said that he recognizes the equal importance of both the volunteers and career firefighters. Across the country, he said, volunteer firefighters are facing scrutiny and can feel overlooked at times. He hopes to bring the two together in Southington and create a “seamless operation.”
“Each group involved is doing it for different reasons, and faces different problems. In order to be successful, I need to know how to address each problem in its own way,” he said. “There needs to be a cohesive organization, one that works as a team, and cares about serving the citizens. That’s what we’re here to do.”
The new chief said that being a good listener is the only way to reach his goals for the department. He referenced an old saying to illustrate his intentions: “Nowadays, people listen to respond, but what we need to do is listen to learn. We’ve got to have empathy, and be able to put ourselves in their shoes.”
After visiting the town during the interview process, Butler said that he is excited to call Southington his soon-to-be home. He said that he looks forward to getting involved in the community as much as he can.
“I am looking forward to meeting and working with Chief Butler as I am sure the rest of the officers, staff and members are,” said Battalion Chief Eric Heath. “Having served as interim chief, I hope to provide him with what assistance he may need with his transition to Southington and the Southington Fire Department. We have many positive projects underway and in the pipeline, and I feel his influence and experience will help continue to lead the department in a forward, progressive manner.”
Butler will officially start on Wednesday, Aug. 1.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.