SOUTHINGTON — Incoming Fire Chief Richard Butler made his first visit to town since he was hired last week.
Butler flew from Annapolis, Maryland, to Connecticut Wednesday morning and planned to return to Annapolis Thursday. During his stay he toured fire stations, met department members, acquainted himself with the town and looked for a house.
Butler, 59, who has spent nearly his entire life in Maryland, said the trip made the impending move “real” for him. He was impressed with the town and said he’s joining a “remarkable” fire department.
“I think I’m going to like living here,” he said.
Butler’s first day as chief is Aug. 1. The department has been without a permanent chief for 18 months. Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Mike Bunko, who accompanied Butler on the tour, said leaders and firefighters alike are glad to have someone in the top spot.
“Clearly there’s a lot of relief,” he said. “We’re all delighted.”
Butler said he grew up wanting to be a firefighter and was in awe of the “larger than life” firefighters he knew. More than a year ago, he retired from his role as a battalion chief with the Annapolis Fire Department but afterward found that he wanted to get back into full-time fire service.
Butler began his career as a volunteer firefighter. In Annapolis, the volunteer side of the department where he started has almost entirely disappeared. Annapolis now has 142 paid firefighters.
With increasing population and fire calls, Southington’s department will need both career and volunteer firefighters to meet the town’s emergency response needs, Butler said. He wants to hear from all department members and stressed that he has no preference for one group or the other.
“Everybody is here to help,” he said. “Each should be supporting the other.”
Glenn Dube, a battalion chief and head of the local firefighters union, drove Butler and Bunko around town Wednesday afternoon. He was impressed with the incoming chief.
“He wants to hear all points of view,” Dube said. “I couldn’t be happier with his outlook and his philosophy.”
“We talked about what he’s looking for in his firefighters. He said he wanted passionate, dedicated firefighters. I told him he has that here in spades,” Dube said.
Butler is an Air Force veteran and has a son who works for the Annapolis Fire Department.
Butler will be the first full-time chief since the retirement of Harold “Buddy” Clark in 2016.
Chris Robertson, a fire board member, said Butler was his first choice among the candidates.
“I really believe he’s going to be the one to lead this department,” Robertson said.