I have been wanting to interview Richard Hamm for months. Rick, as he is affectionately know as, was the name that kept popping up when you ask someone about the Tewksbury Fire Department. Everyone told me that he was something special. I had my chance today. I visited Rick at the Fire station on South Street. I was greeted by Rick's giant smile and welcomed into his "house". We sat down and had a real conversation. Please read on.
Hollie Gonzalez - Where do you live?
Rick Hamm - I live on Rhoda Street here in town, for 56 years now.
HG - How long have you worked as a firefighter in Tewksbury?
RH - I have been with the Tewksbury Fire Department since 1987.
HG - What are the typical shift hours like for you?
RH - It's 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, then 5 days off.
HG- Do you get to sleep in that 24 hour shift? I know it must be hard.
RH - Just like you see on some TV shows, like Emergency, we have beds that we can sleep in, but when that alarm sounds, or that call comes in, its all hands on deck, whatever time it is.
HG - What are some of your calls like?
RH - They range from fire alarm inspections to helping the deputy doing inspections at the State Hospital. We have calls to help with colicky babies, to major accidents where Med Flight is called in. Obviously fires and everything else in between.
HG - Is the fire department the one that calls in Med Flight?
RH - Yes, we just had an accident that was on Main Street in front of Mahoney's that we made the call to have Med Flight come for.
HG - Does a fire truck always accompany an ambulance on calls and why?
RH - 99% of the time we do. It is mostly for the extra manpower. Say a call is on the second floor, we are there to help the paramedics or EMT's carry a person down the stairs, especially if they are doing CPR or administering drugs. Also, the call may never be as simple as it seems so we always go with an ambulance.
HG - What can you recall as being the biggest fire ever in Tewksbury?
RH - In the early 90's, there was a fire at a place called Alan's Coal. It was on Main Street currently where Peregrines Landing is located. It was an old church that was bought and housed an oil and coal company. I was working at the North Street station at the time and remember being called in on the second alarm. You could see the smoke from North Street. It was terrible. This year there was a pretty big fire up on Catamount Road. A whole house was engulfed.
HG - Have you ever been injured on a call?
RH - I was caught in a flashover once. Around 2008 on Darby Road. That's where everything in the room is super heated and there is no oxygen in the room. I was going upstairs with another firefighter and someone smashed a window upstairs. It let a huge ball of flames into the room. My ears got burnt. It was pretty scary.
HG - What is the strangest call you have ever been on?
RH - (laughs) do you really want to know?.. Well, a gentlemen was tied to a chair once and had to call us to help him get out because he was having chest pains. We didn't know if he was tied there by a robber or what. Turns out it was not a robber, it was TOTALLY for another reason.
HG - I am a big fan of the TV show Chicago Fire. Is that show pretty on point when it come to the fire fighting aspect of it? or is it not even close?
RH - Some of it is fabricated, and some of it is pretty close. You know the parts where the firemen are going through a house or warehouse and there is smoke everywhere, but you can see them? Well, it's TV, you have to be able to see them. (Rick has me close my eyes here) If you are in a real fire, the smoke is so thick and black, that you can't see at all. It is like having your eyes covered. That is why you often see firemen in real fires on their hands and knees. You don't know where you are.
HG - What are some tips for having C02 detectors and fire alarms in your home?
RH - Well, every house should have both. Make sure they are all working. Test them, clean them, and change the batteries at least once a year. People don't realize that carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, and you can't smell smoke when you are sleeping. Upkeep on these devices could save your life.
HG - What about pool and swimming safety advice?
RH - The biggest thing is to monitor who is swimming. You have no idea how many people think that they can just "run in" for a drink or to grab a phone call. An accident can happen in an instant. Always know who is swimming, and their level of swim. If it's a lake or pond, know your environment. For homeowners with pools, they sell something now called a "floating alarm". It floats in the pool and if the water moves, or anything touches it, an alarm goes off. (side note: I googled this.. there are quite a few, some are called Pool Guard, Pool Patrol, and Pool Eye)
HG - What does all of you gear consist of when you wear it, and how heavy is it?
RH - There is the pants, jacket, helmet, gloves, air tank and face piece. It weighs roughly about 60 pounds.
HG - Any advice to future potential fireman? or candidates if that is what they are called?
RH - Candidates, Rookies, Probies, Newbies, there are so many names. My advise is this. It is very hard work. You have to have a true passion for this job. Study hard, pass the test, written and physical. The physical part is the hardest. You have to stay in shape and keep up your health. This is a very strenuous and very serious job. But this is the best job I could ever ask for.
HG - Any pet peeves about being a fireman?
RH - Cars that don't pull over when a fire truck, ambulance or police car is coming towards them. That is such a big problem. You don't know how many times that almost causes and accident for us. A lot of people pull over when we are coming up behind them, but the same thing applies when we are coming from the opposite direction. Clear the way and let us by. We have our lights and sirens on for a reason. And another thing that is real important, clear out your fire hydrants from the snow. We had a real bad winter this year, lots of people didn't clear the snow from the hydrants and that makes it really hard to locate them in an emergency.
HG - You recently participated in the Habitat for Humanity project, tell me about it.
RH - I am on the committee here in town. I asked a friend of mine, Scott Carpenter what the TFD could do to help on the Habitat For Humanity House that was being done at 110 State Street here in town. I mentioned it at our Firehouse meeting one day and immediately got the guys to volunteer their time to the project. 12 of us built the roof, free of charge obviously, and it was an amazing feeling for us fireman. We did it in one day. It was the first time habitat got that done for free and we couldn't have been any happier or prouder.
HG - What is your favorite thing about Tewksbury?
RH - The people. You meet a lot of great people in Tewksbury. On the job or off the job. My kids grew up here and we have lots of friends here in the town.
HG - What is your least favorite thing about Tewksbury?
RH - The taxes. We pay a lot of taxes to live here. The sewer rates are crazy. I know they did it to improve the town, but... (just saying)
HG - What do you like to do in your spare time?
RH - Sit on my back porch with a nice fire. If I'm not doing that, I love going to North Conway to visit my son and go hiking or swimming.
Rick Hamm is so nice. What a lucky town we have to be able to have such a nice guy on our fire department. He was business, friendly, honest and truthful. I loved talking to him. I took my kids with me to this interview. I was going to leave them with my parents when I went here, but my son who is 10 was really serious and very anxious to come with me to see Rick and the fire station. Usually my son plays his iPad when I make him tag along. He did for a few minutes, but as soon as he heard Rick and began listening to him. He was hooked. He hung on every word. That makes a big impression on you. Rick was just that, a big impression and an incredible guy. Thanks for the tour of the fire station and the trucks and gear. I loved it, and my kids loved it. I really appreciated him taking the time to talk to me. We tried to schedule this interview like three times prior, but being a fireman obviously came first and he got called out a few times. I am glad we were able to make this happen and let the people of Tewksbury know a little about Rick Hamm.
Quick 5 - Rick Hamm
Who would you like to meet from the past? - Ted Williams
Gummie Bears or Gummie Worms - Bears
Go to a mechanic or fix it yourself - Fix it myself
Favorite TV show - .....wait for it...wait for it... Chicago Fire ( he really said it)
If I wasn't a fireman, I'd be a - Carpenter
(Hollie Gonzalez lives in Tewksbury with her two children. She is very passionate about her town)
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