After 35 years of helping others, Keefe retires as South Hadley District 2 fire chief



Published: 11/4/2016 2:22:25 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — For possible the first time in 30-plus years, David Keefe went on a walk last Monday without his two emergency pagers.

“Yesterday I actually went for a walk with my dog, didn’t have a pager or a radio with me. I was disconnected,” Keefe said Tuesday. “I just didn’t know what that was like.”

Keefe, 60, retired from his role as chief of South Hadley Fire District No. 2 at the end of October. He had been chief since 2005 and a full-time firefighter since 1984.

Not yet finished with his first full day of retirement, Keefe said it felt “very different.”

“I’ve never been without a job, even for a day since I was a teenager,” he said. “It’s going to be an adjustment. I’m going to spend a little time just trying to make a readjustment.”

He said he has no concrete plans on what he’ll do next but said he wants to take a break and spend some time with his four children.

Reflecting on his more than three decades of public service, Keefe said he became a firefighter because of his father.

“I’ve come to the realization that I am my dad all over again,” he said. “People always came to my dad. He wasn’t only a highly educated guy (and) World War II veteran, he was very much a good advice guy. He knew what to do, he knew how to handle everything, all he did was help other people and raise a family.”

“I guess I wanted to be like my dad,” Keefe said.

Keefe went into the U.S. Army in October 1985 and after he was discharged he briefly returned to the supermarket where he once worked.

“I realized very quickly, I couldn’t do that. That was not the challenge for me that I needed to have,” he said.

So Keefe began to volunteer as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in the Hilltowns. It was then he realized that was his calling.

“I was helping people that were having a very difficult time whether it was a medical emergency, whether their house was being damaged, whatever the emergency might be, I just wanted to be there for people,” Keefe recalled.

Having found his passion, Keefe applied for a full-time position with the Easthampton Fire Department. He said getting the job was the “best thing that ever happened” to him other than meeting his wife, getting married and having his four children.

At 48, Keefe said it became apparent to him that he was ready for a position as chief but knew it wouldn’t happen in Easthampton. He found the job in nearby South Hadley, which he said was a good fit.

When he came to District 2 department back in 2005, he knew there would be some challenges but said that was what he was looking for in his new role. The town, Keefe explained, was looking to divest itself of the ambulance service that it had been running.

Keefe said the district was interested in having its own ambulance service but it turned into a “real political football.”

“There was some real disagreement on how that should happen. I found myself in a pretty difficult situation,” Keefe recalled.

The District 2 department eventually took over the ambulance service from the town, which Keefe described as a significant accomplishment.

“As a result today, the two separate fire district ambulances – we work extremely well together, every day and every night of the year,” he said. “It’s kind of just become the norm now.”

During his time as chief, Keefe said he was given a unique opportunity to work and mentor a younger generation of people.

That opportunity, Keefe explained, was nothing the department had formally implemented. Instead, he said it was a group of full and part-time employees who got along really well and had an “affinity for wanting to help” younger people figure out issues.

“There was a team of us. I guess that is what I’ll miss the most,” he said. “There was a team of us. We didn’t realize it. Really just realizing it now. We worked together.

“We were always there for these young people to come in and sit with us and talk,” Keefe continued.

Scott Brady, the acting fire chief in District No. 2, said the department celebrated Keefe’s departure with a luncheon that drew people from all over western Massachusetts to say farewell.

Keefe was driven home in one of the department’s engines for his final ride, according to Brady.

“I’ve had many jobs in my life, and I can unequivocally state Chief Keefe was the best boss I ever had not because he was easy going or he made the work easy but because he was always striving to do the right thing and perform the mission, maintain the safety of the citizens of the district and firefighters doing the work,” Brady said.

“He definitely has the mindset, if you’re always striving to do the right thing, it makes you’re job a whole lot easier,” he continued.

A few hours into his first day as acting chief this week, Brady said, “so far, so good.”

“I’ve had a ton of support from everyone on the fire department. We have just a great staff of full-time and call people,” Brady said. “Everybody is very, very focused on getting the job done and doing the right thing.”

Brady came to the department in 2000 after moving from Florida and started full-time in 2007.

“When I moved up here, (I) joined the local on-call fire department to become part of the community. I did that until an opportunity came up for a full-time position,” Brady said. “Over the years, I’ve fallen in love with fire service and emergency response in general.”

Brady has moved up through the ranks, first as a lieutenant and then to captain. When the opportunity came up for acting chief, Brady applied for that position.

“As the acting … chief, it’s pretty clear from the way the position was outlined, it’s to keep us going,” he said. “We don’t want to lose any of our mission effectiveness.”

With Brady now at the helm of the district, the Prudential Committee, which oversees District 2, isn’t in a hurry to hire a new chief, according Kenneth McKenna, chairman of the committee.

“We aren’t going to be in any rush right now. No reason to be,” McKenna said. “He (Brady) is in the position. He knows what to do.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at

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