Fire chief looks to department’s future

2/10/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: February

Fire Chief Dean Desmarais
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

January 5 is a special day for Fire Chief Dean Desmarais.

Along with it being most importantly his mother’s birthday, he’s celebrated two major career milestones on that date.

This year, on Jan. 5, Desmarais celebrated his 30th anniversary as a member of the Chicopee Fire Department by officially becoming fire chief.

“It was nice timing for it,” Desmarais said with a chuckle.

After an 18-month stint in a provisional role after the retirement of former Chief Stephen Burkott, Desmarais was awarded the permanent position by Mayor Richard Kos.

During that time, Desmarais said he was able to easily slide into the role and take on a fair share of the responsibilities thanks to his previous experience with the department as its executive officer.

“In that role Chief Burkott would give me a lot of responsibilities within the operations of the department and supported me in those decisions,” he explained. “I think that was one of the reasons the mayor had chosen me as a provisional.”

Desmarais has seen a great deal of change in firefighting and emergency response since he joined the department in 1987.

First and foremost, he pointed to the Fire Department’s role in responding to medical emergencies.

“That has become the vast majority of our response incidents, both with our ambulance and with our fire apparatus,” he said. “They far exceed the number of fire-related calls. That’s true for basically all fire departments across the country.”

He also said there has been an evolution in the manner in which fire departments respond to and battle blazes, thanks to better science and equipment. He explained that when he first joined the Fire Department, the common tactic was to attempt to knock down a fire from outside the structure, but eventually it was discovered that more lives were saved by an approach through which firefighters advanced into a building from an unaffected portion and containing the fire from the inside out.

Now, however, the methods are evolving once again.

“With the products that are in structures and the construction and such, they’re developing a new tactic,” Desmarais said. They’re finding the rate of fire is developing much faster and the potential for flashover is coming much quicker and it’s putting not only firefighters but the general public at risk. The new tactic is to hit it fast from the outside, but then going in and doing the completion and search They are finding these methods are safer for all involved.”

In spite of all that experience, in the past year and a half, Desmarais said he was able to learn in much greater depth the operations of the department. He did note he had somewhat limited power when it came to certain aspects of its management.

“With that certain policies and things would only appropriately be delayed until a permanent chief was decided upon,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to the department otherwise.

Now that his role is permanent, his next order of business is to fill the positions that are vacated by his appointment, namely a new deputy chief, captain and lieutenant. Currently all of those positions are filled in a provisional capacity.

Desmarais also said he hopes to establish or build upon some existing programs.

One of his main goals is to lend greater support to the Fire Prevention Office, which may also include an expansion of that portion of the department.

“Within fire prevention, most important is education. I’m looking to find ways to reach out to a broader range of the public,” he said, explaining established programs targeting children in schools and the elderly are effective, but he would like to find better ways to reach people between those ages. “I would like to develop a way to reach the 20 to 55 group. Those are your people who are working and who have busy lifestyles and it’s hard to reach out to them.”

Social media, he said, is one media into which the department is starting to tap.

He added the Fire Prevention Office has done well in its smoke detector initiatives and will continue to push for residential sprinkler system requirements.

“We’re fighting hard for residential sprinklers because we know that those things work,” he stressed.

Desmarais also hopes to put in place better protocols through which appropriate departments can follow up on potential safety issues spotted during inspections or medical emergency responses.

“Prevention is the best way to eliminate risk for the public and for our firefighters,” he said.

Within the department Desmarais plans to initiate a comprehensive mentoring program.

“I think we do a fair job, but I’d like to do more on that so our officers are more involved with their subordinates so the people under them understand the officers’ responsibilities and duties. If they feel more comfortable, I think it encourages them to advance,” he explained, adding that understanding can also help firefighters accept and apply training received through officers.

A wellness program may also be in the works.

“Allowing our firefighters to be as physically fit as they possibly can is a means of reducing injury,” he said. “That’s not only good for firefighter safety, it’s good for the department because we can maintain our staffing levels. If we can keep them healthier, its good for them and it’s good for us.”

A past president of the Western Massachusetts Fire Prevention Association, and former member of Board of Directors for the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts, Desmarais is now a member of the Western Massachusetts Fire Chiefs Association, Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts and the International Association of Fire Chiefs and said he’s looking forward to expanding his role within those organizations now that he has taken over the chief’s job in a permanent capacity.

“Those associations, through the networking, are huge benefits. Just the interaction, professional development seminars and things like that,” he said. “If there are issues coming through the fire service, that conversation comes out and we can learn how different communities responded to it and find out what methods worked and what methods didn’t.”

Those associations, he noted, also distribute important information on department operations and some, like the International Association of Fire Chiefs, offer forums.

“I can get feedback from across the country on issues, whether it’s developing a standard operating procedure or how they handle certain reductions in funding or new apparatus.”

For more information on the Fire Department, visit or follow the department on Twitter (@ChicopeeFire_HQ).

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