Southampton Fire Chief poised to retire after 33 years, looks forward to a full night’s sleep

  • Southampton Fire Chief John Workman, who is set to retire in June, stands for a photo Tuesday afternoon at the station. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Southampton Fire Chief John Workman, who is set to retire in June, stands for a photo Tuesday afternoon at the station. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Southampton Fire Chief John Workman, who is set to retire in June, stands for a photo Tuesday afternoon at the station. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Southampton Fire Chief John Workman, who is set to retire in June, stands for a photo Tuesday afternoon at the station. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Southampton Fire Chief John Workman, who is set to retire in June, stands for a photo Tuesday afternoon at the station. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Before Southampton Fire Chief John Workman donned turnout gear, he sported a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle in Orion The Hunter’s 1984 music video for “So She Ran.” YOUTUBE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2023 7:19:11 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Sometime this summer, John Workman will finally get a full night’s sleep.

But until then, the longtime firefighter and Southampton fire chief for the last decade will continue to keep one ear open to the radio for calls, just like he’s done for the last 33 years.

“My wife and I wake up for every call that comes in — just in case,” said Workman, who is poised to retire as head of the town’s fire department on June 30. “I will miss the men and women that I work with on a daily basis at the fire department. Each of them dedicates time away from family and friends to pick up shifts that are over and above their full-time jobs. …We have some of the best here that could compete with any full-time department.”

Workman, who was hired as the chief of the Southampton Fire Department in October 2013, submitted a retirement letter last year. The town will soon begin a search to find his replacement.

“I’m going to be 62 years old (in April). It’s time to let a new group come up and for me to do some of the home renovation projects on my honey-do list,” he said in an interview with the Gazette.

Workman was born in Maine and spent much of his upbringing in Brookline.

He credits his community values to his great-aunt, who was very supportive of the local volunteer fire department. One of his earliest memories of fire service was hearing the local department’s whistle go off at lunchtime while he was attending a three-room schoolhouse in Southport, Maine, and watching how everyone would pitch in.

Those tenets would carry him through his three-plus-decade career in fire services. In 1989, he became Belchertown Fire Department’s first full-time firefighter. He spent more than 20 years at that department, serving as second in command for about 17 years before coming to Southampton 10 years ago.

His path to fire services wasn’t a straight one, however.

Before donning flame-retardant bunker jackets and boots, Workman sported a leather jacket and motorcycle helmet circuit racing motorcycles up and down the East Coast. He also worked on motorcycles as a mechanic at a garage in Boston.

That period of his life was also immortalized when he was hired to ride a motorcycle with a model in tow in Orion The Hunter’s 1984 music video for “So She Ran.” The 1980s band featured former Boston members Barry Goudreau on guitar and Brad Delp on backing vocals as well as Fran Cosmo.

Throughout the video, Workman’s face is shadowed beneath a motorcycle helmet, but shortly after the 3:30-minute mark, his then-23-year-old face is front and center.

“I was a greasy motorcycle mechanic having fun,” he said.

A crash at a circuit race in Bridgehampton, New York, made him shift gears and rethink his career path. He began studying engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

While attending school, he ended up buying a few houses and renovating them. During the same time, he found his true passion in fire services and became a volunteer firefighter.

Finding a replacement

Preliminary discussions about the recruitment process to find Workman’s replacement took place at the Select Board meeting last week. The fire chief is currently the only full-time position at the department, while the 48 firefighters on the roster serve per diem.

Chris Fowles, chairperson of the Select Board, said that in the past the town has created a committee to conduct a search and bring recommendations to the board to be voted on.

“We need to get moving on this sooner rather than later,” Fowles said.

Through the discussion, the board determined that they would like a search committee that includes participation from Town Administrator Ed Gibson, a select board member, a department head, a member of the command staff from a fire department outside of Southampton and one to two residents.

Before finalizing an advertisement for the position, Fowles requested further information about the definition of a “strong chief.”

As it currently stands, Workman is considered a “strong chief” under state law, which means he has hiring and firing authority and control over discipline of staff.

Should the town want to change that status, a warrant article would have to come before voters at town meeting, said Gibson.

John Lumbra, vice chairperson of the board, volunteered to be on the soon-to-be established search committee. He estimated that if the committee got going soon, members could look over resumes and potentially interview candidates in February and March and have a report to the Select Board by April 1.

“In theory, someone could be on board by May 1 if the budget allows and have some overlap with John,” Lumbra said.

Workman’s last day is June 30. In addition to some home renovation projects, he’s looking forward to getting some time sailing on his boat.

“Firefighting is a job I love and have performed for almost 33 years. The only real trouble I see with retirement is I will never get a day off,” he said.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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