From hiring the first female firefighter to keeping training and equipment up to date, Suffield’s retiring Fire Chief, Thomas Bellmore, has been a catalyst for change.
The career town employee and 46-year department veteran made a big change by retiring.
“When I got out of high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do and when I retire I don’t know what [I'll] want to do,” said Bellmore in an interview shortly before he ended his time as chief. “At least I am consistent. I take things one day at a time. It will be different.”
Bellmore grew up in Suffield and is sticking around in town after his official last day, Dec. 31, 2011.
“We’re kind of a West Suffield family,” Bellmore said. “We grew up here and we don’t go far from it. My brother even lives in my grandfather’s house.”
Of Bellmore's siblings, one brother and three sisters, all except one still live in town. Bellmore still lives in his family home, passed from one generation to the next.
“The fire service is pretty much my life … I don’t really have any hobbies,” he explained. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get paid for my hobby.”
Bellmore, 64 years old, has been with the force officially since 1965. He really developed his love of firefighting as a child when he would accompany his father, also a volunteer firefighter in Suffield, on calls.
“I was that little pain in the neck that used to go with them,” he said with a smile. “They had me hooked early on.”
Over the years he’s worked for the highway department, the ambulance service and police department while he continued to volunteer for the town's fire department in his free time. His reward for many years of service was the appointment to fire chief in 1981.
One of his first big moves was to hire the first female volunteer firefighter that very same year. That applicant was the daughter of the former deputy chief and niece of the previous chief, who had sat on the application.
“There was a lot of controversy over it,” he said. “You just didn’t put women on back then.”
“My feelings are if someone can do the job, I don’t care if you are male or female… there’s all kinds of jobs to do here,” Bellmore elaborated.
Throughout the years, he’s watched the average amount of calls increase from about 100 to roughly 350 per year, a result of the town's growth. Under his watch, young kids in the explorers program became full-fledged members of the fire department. He was instrumental in the building of the two fire stations in the western part of Suffield. And he watched over the replacement of every piece of equipment the department was responsible for, including eight different trucks.
“There have been a lot of changes. If we look back and say, 'What have I done?' Well, I’ve spent a lot of the town’s money,” he joked.
Overall, Bellmore is most proud of keeping Suffield's volunteer firefighting force active and successful.
“It’s been a challenge through the years to maintain a volunteer force … and it will continue to remain a challenge,” he said. “As people’s lives get busier and busier there will be less time for volunteering.”
“It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the cooperation of everybody here; the town, the team.” Bellmore explained. “Everyone realized that it’s a good bargain to have a volunteer force and treat the volunteers well.”
While Bellmore is retiring, he won’t be far from the station. He plans to volunteer again once a new chief has been hired and established.
“Hopefully I’ve kept the organization self-sufficient. I should be able to walk away and have all the confidence in the world [that the crew] can provide the same level of protection to the residents it always has. That’s the nature of a firefighter – their one purpose is to serve the people.”