Deputy chief retiring after 39 years with South Deerfield Fire District

  • South Deerfield Fire District Deputy Chief Dennis Patterson is retiring after 39 years in the district and 24 years as deputy chief. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • South Deerfield Fire District Deputy Chief Dennis Patterson explains the command board as one of the biggest changes in firefighting since he joined the district in 1982. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • South Deerfield Fire District Deputy Chief Dennis Patterson explains the command board as one of the biggest changes in firefighting since he joined the district in 1982. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • South Deerfield Fire District Deputy Chief Dennis Patterson set up this display in a fire bay showing how firefighting equipment has changed over the years. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2021 4:24:03 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Dennis Patterson knows he can’t just walk away when he retires from the South Deerfield Fire District at the end of the month.

Patterson, the district’s deputy chief since 1997 and a firefighter since 1982, has put his heart and soul into his time with the department. That dedication can be heard in the passion in his voice when he speaks about the technological and operational advancements he has overseen during his tenure.

“You wonder why it’s so hard to walk away,” Patterson said looking over the fleet of district vehicles he has helped acquire. “I’m very proud of how we’ve moved forward since I’ve been here.”

The longtime deputy chief has reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. To continue in his position, he would need to apply for a waiver that must be approved by residents at Town Meeting if he would like to continue his career. Patterson is undecided as to whether he will ultimately apply for a waiver.

“Like everything else, every dog has their day,” Patterson said. “It is a young person’s job, no doubt about it. But I’m still in good health and shape.”

He said retiring, even if only for a little bit, would be a chance for him to “come up for air” and do some of the things he enjoys like spending time outdoors or bonding with his grandchildren.

“I like to hunt and fish and I have my hobbies like that,” Patterson said. “I have grandkids and I like to goof around with them.”

Like many firefighters, it’s a family affair for Patterson. His grandfather fought fires — or so he was told — and his dad fought fires. His cousin, Bob Baker, is the longtime fire chief of neighboring Conway and his wife, Lt. Patricia Patterson, was the first woman to be a fire officer of the South Deerfield Fire District.

Despite having a long family history of firefighting, he said he was actually late to joining the fire district. Patterson joined when he was 25 years old because he spent a lot of time working on farms when he was younger.

“It’s ran in our family I would say. … It’s been a family adventure,” Patterson said. “I could have had more years into this department, but I used to work on farms and that took all my time.”

Patterson said his biggest takeaway from his decades with the South Deerfield Fire District is how the crew has become more efficient and safer when it comes to preparing to fight a fire, fighting the fire and the aftermath of a fire.

He highlighted the “accountability board” as one of the most important things he’s worked on. Each firetruck contains a whiteboard with positions and tasks listed on it, along with nametags for whoever is on duty in that truck. When arriving at the scene, the firefighters place their tag on the spot on the board for whatever their task is.

“Accountability is a huge thing compared to what it used to be,” Patterson said. “Back before, there was not a lot of that happening.”

In terms of fighting fires, the equipment is much safer and each firefighter is equipped with a voice amplifier and a radio. Patterson said in the past, if someone was in a burning building, there was no telling what was happening until they came back out. He added the firefighting field now is much more conscious of the chemicals firefighters may be exposed to when they enter a burning building, which could contain asbestos or other cancer-causing chemicals. Any gear used is never directly brought into the trucks or inside the station offices now; it is given to a delivery truck and then washed and dried in industrial-size machines in the fire bay.

“Back in the day, you didn’t talk about cancer in the fire service,” Patterson said. “The fire service has really moved great leaps ahead. It’s just so amazing where we were compared to today.”

Staring over the fleet of six vehicles again, Patterson said he works hard to keep them in “immaculate” condition.

“I take a lot of pride in it. … I always make sure the trucks are well maintained,” he said. “When the bell rings, people are counting on you.”

Even if he is stepping away on Oct. 29 from the fire service he has devoted his life to, Patterson knows he’ll be coming back one way or another.

“It’s in your blood,” Patterson said. “It’s there and it’s not going to go away.”

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