Susan Labrie, state’s first female fire chief, stepping down from Goshen, Chesterfield jobs

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie gets her turnout gear in preparation for an operations drill Tuesday. Behind her is her daughter Hannah Labrie, also a member of the Fire Department. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with members of her crew during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Middle, Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with, left, Dillon Neveu and right, Nate Godden, during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susn Labrie operates the engine during a pump operations training on Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with, from left, Francis Dunham, Dillon Neveu, and Dylan Tanner, members of the Fire Department, during a pump operations drill Tuesday evening. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with Steve Estelle, a member of the Fire Department, during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with members of her crew during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Estelle, Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie, and Dylan Tanner, during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Members of the Goshen Fire Department during a pump operations drill Tuesday night. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie works with Dylan Tanner, a member of the department, during a pump operations drill Tuesday night, April 6, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2021 8:42:51 PM

GOSHEN — When Susan Labrie and her husband, Robert, were getting the home they’d built inspected by then-longtime Goshen Fire Chief Francis Dresser in 1989, the couple was recruited to join the town’s volunteer fire department.

“That was the start of it,” she recalled.

Labrie would go on to make history when, in 2006, she was appointed as Dresser’s successor, becoming the first female fire chief in Massachusetts history. Now, Labrie is preparing to step down and retire in June.

“I’ve got a really strong department with some great officers,” Labrie said. “I think it’s a good time to transition.”

Labrie, 57, also will be retiring as Chesterfield’s town administrator, a job she has held since 2011. Although she and her husband had thought about waiting a few more years until retirement, the COVID-19 pandemic changed their calculations.

“I think the pandemic just kind of burned both of us out,” Labrie said.

Because of the way the Hampshire County Retirement System works, if you retire from one job that pays into the system you have to retire from the other. As such, Labrie said that choosing to retire as town administrator makes it so she’ll have to retire as fire chief as well.

Labrie had planned to stay on as chief until she was 60. Her last day in both jobs will be June 20, and news of her retirement has “shocked” some in town, she said.

One of those people is Roger Fuller, chairman of the Chesterfield Select Board.

“I was surprised, everyone was surprised,” he said, adding that Labrie’s successor has “big shoes to fill.”

“She has been a very incredible assistant to the Select Board and town,” Fuller said, describing Labrie as the Select Board’s “right arm.”

“And probably left in a lot of cases,” he added.

Chesterfield’s Select Board voted in March to post the town administrator position. Goshen has not yet advertised for the fire chief’s job.

“I’m very grateful that she did provide this considerable notice,” Goshen Select Board Chairwoman Angela Otis said.

“Something that comes to mind as I reflect on Chief Labrie’s service is ‘How many family events did Sue miss over the years?’” Otis wrote in a statement on Labrie’s looming retirement. “The Select Board and residents cannot thank her enough for the risk she took, the personal sacrifice she made and for her leadership and mentoring. She values her team and it shows in the skills she has developed in her volunteer group.”

Without prejudice

As the first female fire chief in the state’s history, something the Goshen Select Board didn’t realize at the time of her appointment, Labrie said she wasn’t treated any differently.

“I never ran up against bias or anything like that,” she said.

She also said that Dresser created an egalitarian culture in the Goshen Fire Ddepartment, and that the other Hampshire County chiefs welcomed her.

Jennifer Mieth, the public information officer at the Department of Fire Services, noted the historic significance of Labrie’s appointment.

“It was a great day for women everywhere,” she said.

Mieth said that she first met Labrie through public fire education work, and said Labrie has embraced the part of her job that involves being a role model.

“In so many ways in her life she’s been an excellent model for young women everywhere,” Mieth said.

Since Labrie, there have been three other women who have become fire chiefs in Massachusetts. However, only Jen Collins-Brown, in Topsfield, and Labrie remain in their positions.

In addition to Labrie, Goshen has six other women firefighters, out of a department of 24, including her daughter Hannah.

“That’s a lot of fun,” said Labrie, on getting to serve with her daughter.

Labrie said Hannah first joined the department at 14 as a junior fire fighter, and has been a responding member while going to college remotely during the pandemic.

Labrie also said that her presence as a female chief has inspired women to join her fire department and others, noting that women who have joined other departments have talked to her first.

Recruiting tactics

Labrie said being a firefighter is like being part of a family.

“It really is a great group of people to get involved with,” she said.

She also said that she has used her predecessor’s recruiting tactic when doing inspections as well.

“If the homeowner’s there, then absolutely,” Labrie said.

Labrie said that being a member of the Fire Department is a good way to get to know the community. As for her time as chief, she noted the grants that she’d been able to secure, for things such as a new fire truck and a dryer. Before the Goshen Fire Department got this dryer, it was air-drying uniforms.

While Labrie won’t be a member of the Fire Department after she retires, she said she will still be around if called upon for advice or mentorship. She also made it clear that her successor will be the one in charge.

“I want people to look to the new chief for direction and answers,” she said.

Plainfield Fire Chief Dave Alvord praised Labrie’s service as chief.

“She’s done a great job for Goshen,” he said. “She’ll certainly be missed.”

He noted how when Plainfield lost Fire Chief Dennis Thatcher to cancer, the Goshen Fire Department was there for support, including for Thatcher’s funeral.

“That had a very strong meaning for me,” Alvord said. “They were there for us when it really counted.”

Robert Labrie retired this month from United HealthCare, a health insurance company. The couple has three adult daughters: Sarah, who lives in Boston, Alyssa, who lives in New York City and Hannah, who goes to school in Boston but is currently in Goshen.

“We would just love to be able to see more of the world …. post-pandemic,” Labrie said.

She also said that she and her husband intend to remain Goshen residents, in the home they built together.

“The house is our blood, sweat and tears,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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