A fire chief's final ride: Plainfield's Dennis Thatcher laid to rest

  • 1942 Engine 1 with Chief Thatcher's turnout coat draped over an empty chair SUBMITTED PHOTO/BOB LABRIE

  • Plainfield Assistant Fire Chief Dave Alvord leaves Plainfield Congregational Church carrying Dennis Thatcher’s helmet following Sunday’s funeral service. He is followed by Thatcher’s widow, Theresa and his sister Denise Sessions. SUBMITTED PHOTO/ BOB LABRIE

  • 1942 Engine 1 with Chief Thatcher's turnout coat draped over an empty chair. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

  • Plainfield Assistant Fire Chief Dave Alvord leaves the Plainfield Congregational Church carrying Dennis Thatcher’s helmet following Sunday’s funeral service. He is followed by Thatcher’s wife Theresa Thatcher and his sister Denise Sessions. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

  • Members of the Plainfield Fire Department transfer the ashes of Dennis Thatcher onto Engine 1 for his final ride to the cemetery Sunday. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

  • Plainfield firefighters ride along with their fallen chief on the way to the cemetery. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

For the Gazette
Published: 9/9/2019 12:12:12 AM

PLAINFIELD — Representatives from over 16 fire departments, state Fire Marshal Peter Ostrowski, members of the Massachusetts State Police and local hilltown police departments turned out Sunday afternoon for the final sendoff of their friend and colleague, longtime Plainfield Fire Chief Dennis Thatcher.

Under bright blue skies dotted with billowy clouds, mourners solemnly filed into the Plainfield Congregational Church flanked by two long lines of firefighters on the sidewalk outside.

“It is a difficult matter for a fire department and for a community to lose a leader like this,” Ostrowski said.

Speaking at the service, Assistant Fire Chief Dave Alvord recalled Thatcher as a third-generation farmer who loved the land, his family and his community. He praised Thatcher for his lifetime of service and volunteerism for the town.

“What a run,” Alvord said. “Forty-three years in the fire service and 34 of those years as fire chief — that just doesn’t happen anymore.”

Alvord noted that when Thatcher became chief in 1986, he was 27 years old, making him the youngest fire chief in Massachusetts. He was also one of the longest-serving chiefs in Hampshire County.

Alvord credited Thatcher with building up the fire department and being instrumental in securing the funding needed to build the town’s Public Safety Complex.

“Dennis was chief, but the real chief in the house was his wife, Theresa,” Alvord said. “Together, they wrote grant after grant, and they got them for us. Now we are forever blessed as a town because of it.”

After the church service, Plainfield firefighters stood near the antique engine No. 1, which held an empty seat draped with Thatcher’s turnout coat.

Over a loudspeaker came the traditional “last alarm,” in which state police dispatcher Michael Perkins sent out a final call to Thatcher.

Many of those gathered could not fight back tears when the words “Northampton control calling Plainfield 62 x1” beckoned their fallen colleague.

After a short silence, Perkins continued. “Having heard no response from Chief Dennis Thatcher, we know that Chief Thatcher has responded to his final alarm honor, and has assumed a new role as responder in the hereafter.”

Carrying Thatcher’s fire chief helmet, Alvord then walked from the church to the Hilltop Cemetery on North Central Street, followed by Engine 1, which carried Thatcher’s ashes, and the members of the Plainfield Fire Department.

Friends, loved ones and colleagues gathered for a reception held at the Plainfield Public Safety Complex, where many spoke of Thatcher’s love of woodworking, maple sugaring, his dry sense of humor and his ability to make his point succinctly.

Retired Cheshire Fire Chief George Sweet praised Thatcher’s accomplishments and character.

“Just look at the station he got for the town. I would love a place like this,” he said. “And look at the number of departments that are here. You can tell that he was very well liked and respected.”

Some of the fire departments present were Ashfield, Cheshire, Chesterfield, Chicopee, Cummington, Easthampton, Goshen, Hadley, Hatfield, Heath, Montgomery, Pittsfield, Rowe, Shelburne Falls, Worthington and the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“I am very sad today. He was my chief for 20 years,” Kimberly Longey, one of the first women to serve on the department, said with tears welling in her eyes. “That tone-out last call is a real tearjerker.”

Chief Fire Warden for the DCR Dave Celino said he first met Thatcher while Celino was with the Cummington Fire Department.

“He had an amazing way with people and he was very good at maintaining good numbers in his department,” Celino said.

Like all fire departments in the hilltowns, Plainfield is a volunteer department, and members are required to have the same skills and training as their paid counterparts in other cities and towns. Recruiting and keeping firefighters is therefore critical to the town.

Thatcher died Tuesday, Aug. 27, at Baystate Medical Center after a three-year battle with cancer.

“He gave so much, he suffered too much, and he went too early,” Cummington Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Forgea said.

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