Person of the Week
Andrew Kressley: Where’s the Fire?
Dental surgeon by day and firefighter at night (and sometimes day), Andy Kressley was recently elected the chief of the Essex Fire Department. (Photo by Rita Christopher/Harbor News)
One of the persistent dreams of childhood is of someday being a firefighter. Far fewer children dream of someday being a dentist. Andrew Kressley is both.
Andy, who practices in Old Saybrook, was recently elected the chief of the Essex Fire Department. He traded places with Aron Schumacher, who now is deputy chief, the position Andy formerly held. There are also two assistant chiefs, Josh Painter and Doug Harrys. Department officers are elected yearly.
Andy likes to point out he has been a firefighter for 42 years, longer than he has been a dentist; though it’s technically true dentistry was part of Andy’s childhood as well. His father was a dentist; his office was in the family’s house.
“Part of the first floor,” Andy says. “I grew up in a dental office.”
He first joined the fire department as a teenager in 1979 in his hometown of Cetronia, Pennsylvania. A friend’s father was the chief.
“People I had gone through Boy Scouts with were joining,” he recalls. “I got hooked at the age of 17.”
He stayed a member of his local department through his four years at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and through Temple University Dental School in Philadelphia. He was able to get home enough weekends to keep his status active.
Andy’s dental residency took him out of Pennsylvania to St. Raphael’s, now a part of the Yale New Haven Hospital system but still he kept his membership in the Cetronia Fire Department—until he found another one.
Andy joined the Branford department when he lived there for 2 ½ years. In 1995, when he moved to Essex, he became a member of the Essex department.
In his role as chief, Andy says one of his main responsibilities is managing the fire scene.
“As the incident commander, I do safety,” he says.
He is qualified in the different aspects of firefighting from driving the department’s vehicles to working inside burning structures. As he looks back over his firefighting career, nonetheless, Andy says one of the most challenging experiences he ever had didn’t involve fire, but rather water. It was a rescue in Old Saybrook when a car with its driver went into the water off the Dock & Dine Restaurant at Saybrook Point. (The restaurant was demolished after storm damage in 2014.)
He recalls that he and another firefighter from Old Saybrook in dry suits and several other firefighters with no protection tried to get to the car. With a very strong current, Andy and the others were unable to get down to the vehicle. He recalls grabbing the car’s roof rack but not being able to hold on to it. Finally, he says, a single diver or several divers, he doesn’t recall the number, were able to rescue the passenger.
To be sure, professional responsibilities and fire responsibilities can sometimes cause scheduling challenges. In general, Andy is not available during working hours, but if there are fire calls at the end of the day, he sometimes has had his office staff reschedule appointments so he can switch from dentistry to firefighting.
Andy points to the advantage of having other people in leadership roles in the fire department so all situations can be covered. He adds that like all other departments in this area, Essex is grateful for mutual assistance of neighboring towns.
A majority of the Essex Fire Department’s calls don’t involve the putting out fires but rather involve the firefighters’ skills as emergency responders. Many members of the department have emergency medical technician (EMT) or emergency medical responder (EMR) certification. Often the emergency is an older person who has fallen and cannot get up.
According to Andy, there are fire department meetings one evening a week and a training meeting once a month. Once a year, there is live fire training. The department has created a local site using large steel shipping containers where fires simulating actual situations can be ignited and extinguished.
Membership in the department is capped at 60 members, and Andy says there is currently room for new people to join.
“We would love to have 60 active members,” he says.
The department has recently gotten a new fireboat, a learning experience for Andy, who is a sailor.
“Small sailboats yes, but driving power boat is new,” he says.
Trainers from the company instructed three department members who in turn are instructing others in the correct use of the fireboat.
Sailing is actually not Andy’s sport of choice. That is skiing, something in which he has been involved since he was young. Now he skis every year at Mad River Glen in Vermont. His older daughter, Emily, a graduate of Colorado College, is a member of the ski patrol at the Breckenridge ski area in Colorado; his younger daughter Caitlin is a student at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.
Andy is a specialist within the field of dentistry, concentrating on oral and maxillofacial surgery, which includes wisdom teeth extraction, implants, bone grafting, misalignments of the jaw, and tumors in the mouth.
The decision to specialize solved a problem for him. Andy didn’t have to continually explain why he didn’t return to Cetronia to go into general practice with his father, now retired, whom he describes as a skilled dentist devoted to the profession.
Andy speaks with enthusiasm about his work, yet he knows that dentistry can be a subject that elicits a groan or an anticipatory wince. He has a solution to that problem. When someone asks him what he does, he has an answer that never produces a grimace.
“I tell them I’m a fireman,” he says.
For more information on the Essex Fire Department, visit essexctfire.org.