MERIDEN — Longtime volunteer Steve Legere was recently sworn in as the new chief of the South Meriden Volunteer Fire Department.
Legere, deputy chief for the last 10 years, replaces former Fire Chief Keith Gordon, who plans to relocate to Florida. Legere plans to focus on recruiting and seeking accreditation for the department.
“Anyone in our community that wants to do volunteer work, they can do that at the Meriden volunteer department,” said Legere, a volunteer for 27 years.
Legere is also a paramedic at Middlesex Hospital and a paramedic on the Meriden Police Department SWAT team. He has been a police officer in Meriden since 1978, when he entered the force as an auxiliary officer, and is still a certifed officer on reserve.
In 1980, he became a full-time officer and eventually climbed the ranks to serve as deputy chief for two years. Legere was also previously a full-time EMT at Hunter’s Ambulance and a career firefighter in Wallingford for several years.
From an early age, Legere knew he wanted to be a firefighter. He later sought police work to “see more action,” he said.
As a teenager he would chase impressive fires around major eastern cities— New York City, Boston, Philadelphia— in a pseudo-fire bus club with friends.
“It was a wild experience,” Legere said.
His father was also a volunteer firefighter.
“I wanted to do firefighting all my life,” Legere said.
Legere welcomes anyone to volunteer regardless of their special interest, including small engine repairs, painting, cleaning, bookkeeping, fundraising and responding to medical calls only. He also plans to have the department collaborate with Meriden’s Council of Neighborhoods.
Legere intends to continue the accreditation process with the Commission of Fire Accreditation International. He said accreditation will maintain standards and enhance service.
Meriden Fire Chief and Interim City Manager Ken Morgan said he and Gordon had been working on pre-accreditation for a few years. Their efforts included unifying the volunteer and career fire companies, which are considered one department under city charter.
The focus was on unifying training, as well as sharing knowledge and standards, Morgan said.
The volunteer company “is an integral part of the emergency response in the city,” Morgan said.
The department expects to begin the accreditation process in spring by applying to have a “department seeking accreditation” status, which will give them an 18-month period to complete the process. After that, several peer counselors will visit, review documents and approve, deny, or defer accreditation. The accreditation lasts five years, according to the CFAI.
“Accreditation means you are proving that you’re holding your station to a certain standard,” Legere said. “All the training standards and requirements that Meriden fire has are awesome, and we’ll be able to prove that we’re meeting all those standards on the career and volunteer side.”
Gordon said when Legere started at the department, “he moved up very quickly to the point where he became a teaching officer.” His experience as a police officer and first responder helped, Gordon said.
“(He’s) a smart man, very organized and I think he’ll do well,” Gordon said.
The department’s new deputy chief will be David Siegel, who has served as assistant chief for 20 years and has been a volunteer for 34 years.
Almost all leadership positions, including fire chief, are elected roles for two-year terms. None of the positions are compensated.