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Leaving his hometown and 41 years of service to Guilford Fire Department (as volunteer and, later, career member) is “bittersweet,” says Assistant Fire Chief Wayne Vetre. Guilford’s loss is Maine’s gain: On Nov. 1, Vetre becomes the new fire chief for the town of Wells, Maine. (Photo by Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
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For 41 years, Wayne Vetre has been answering the call for Guilford Fire Department (GFD), from his teenaged days a junior volunteer to his latest post as assistant chief. On Friday, Oct. 28, the Guilford native retires from GFD—but his career in fire service will continue. Just a few days later, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, Wayne starts his first day on the job as the new fire chief for the town of Wells, Maine.
“I am retiring, so many people are commenting it’s a quick retirement,” says Wayne, smiling.
In Wells, Wayne will also serve as emergency operations director, bringing his experience as Guilford’s deputy emergency operations director to the role. Wayne also served Guilford as flood plain administrator and deputy fire marshal and on GFD’s Rapid Intervention Team at fire scenes.
Wayne’s breadth of fire service experience includes a career with the Town of East Haven as well as Guilford. He also gave Guilford decades of volunteer service, beginning in 1975 as part of the junior program in what was then an all-volunteer town fire department. Wayne continued volunteering with GFD while going on to join East Haven Fire Department (EHFD) as a career firefighter/EMT. During his 10 years with EHFD, Wayne was hired for a part-time position with GFD, working in his hometown on days off from his full-time job with EHFD. Five years later, he retired from EHFD to take a full-time position with GFD. Within his 16-year full-time career at GFD, Wayne rocketed up the career ladder, rising to his current position of second in command under Guilford Fire Chief Charles Herrschaft, Jr.
“Wayne has a done a lot for the department,” says Chief Herrschaft, noting that, from field and administrative experience to landing important grants, Wayne has “the right stuff” to lead.
“He’s the second individual that’s left here and became a chief,” Chief Herrschaft adds. “I hired Wayne as a fire inspector almost 20 years ago, and he came up through the ranks to become assistant fire chief of operations. He’s basically the number two person in the department. Wayne will be greatly missed.”
Wayne said he will miss working with Chief Herrschaft and is grateful for the opportunities and experience he received through GFD.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity, to get into this department at a time that the department was growing to what it is today,” says Wayne. “We have an excellent group of people, both career and volunteer, and with that, it takes a lot of management. And with the management is observations on how we can always do things more efficiently, coupled with the quality of people we have on both sides of the house. It’s truly one department—the goal is to make it so that everyone is working together equally. That takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, but that’s something that’s been very important to us, and something that will continue to be very important to me as I take that experience in a combination department to another location.”
Heading Up Downeast
Wayne announced his decision to leave Guilford in late August, after being selected by the Town of Wells. Wayne becomes the town’s fourth fire chief since Wells first consolidated departments in 1988, according to The Portsmouth Herald.
Due to vacationing in Wells for the past few years, Wayne has become very familiar with the town. Located four towns past the New Hampshire/Maine state line and about 200 miles north of Guilford, Wells is situated on Maine’s Atlantic coast.
“Wells is a lot like Guilford,” says Wayne. “It has I-95 and Route 1 and the Amtrak corridor, so as far as techniques and apparatus, it’s not that far removed from where we are. The department is a combination department like Guilford [which has both professional and volunteer members]. It’s smaller in numbers, as far as personnel, but the area’s actually larger than Guilford, and the area along the water is more densely populated than Guilford and directly exposed to the ocean, so it creates its own unique challenges.”
The resort community swells from 10,000 residents to 50,000 in summer, when seasonal lifeguards also fall under the purview of the Wells fire chief.
Wayne is energized to lead a fire department that is about to enter a huge growth phase, including constructing two new fire stations and purchasing several pieces of apparatus. Wayne brings valuable experience in budgeting, planning, and producing new town facilities. Years ago, Wayne served Guilford as the town’s assistant director of Public Works, working with former first selectman Ed Lynch to help bring about a new public works building, as administrative assistant for project. For GFD, Wayne was also instrumental in helping the town bring about the new Fire Department Headquarters at 320 Church Street, which opened in 2004.
Wayne is also helped GFD win several important grants to enhance services and equipment. In the past 10 years or so, he’s landed close to $1.5 million in grant money for GFD, including a $300,000 air pack grant, and a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $900,000 to bring in eight additional paid staff.
GFD’s current personnel include a combination of 35 career members and about 64 volunteers. Wayne makes a point to note that career and volunteer first responders are held to the same standards of rigorous training and preparation.
“Our goal has always been, whether you’re paid or volunteer, you’re expected to perform at a particular level, so we do our best to ensure that the people of Guilford have the best people possible protecting them,” says Wayne, adding he’s been proud to have served “elbow to elbow” with each of them.
Wayne began volunteering in Guilford with F.C. Spencer Hook and Ladder Company 3. He’s always been a “truckie” at heart, he says, from helping to maintain, run (and in recent years, rehab) Guilford’s classic 1933 Ahrens-Fox Fire truck; to maneuvering the department’s impressive modern truck company vehicle, Engine 173, a 2006 Sutphen 100-foot ladder truck.
“There’s always a friendly competition going on between the hose company and the truck company,” says Wayne. “I just think people should be appreciative of everybody in the department, and the work they do for the town.”
For Wayne, leaving the many friends and associates he’s come to know here will be “bittersweet.”
“When I made the announcement, there was an overwhelming number of people who responded; it was unbelievable,” says Wayne. “Now that the calendar’s flipped to October, reality has really set in, and now people are saying their last goodbyes. The people in my life have been just phenomenal—the people in Guilford, the career and volunteer people, and those in my career in East Haven. There’s also a huge network of people I’ve come to know throughout the state and associations I’ve made on the federal level. Everyone I’ve been associated with has just been fantastic. The support has been overwhelming. So I honestly feel I can come back any time, and sit down with anyone that’s here.”
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