WALLINGFORD — Retirement has yet to sink in for Fire Chief Peter Struble, who worked his last day with the Wallingford Fire Department Dec. 12. Thursday was Struble’s last official day as an employee of the town. He spent the past 14 years as the town’s fire chief and served with the department for 27 years overall.
“It was a long time to be there,” said Struble. “I didn’t know what to anticipate in terms of the transition, but it’s going better than I thought it would.”
While Struble, 51, is leaving his position with the town, he’s not done working. In January, he will begin teaching full-time in the Fire Science Department at the University of New Haven. Struble has been teaching part-time at the school since 2007. But before his full-time teaching career begins, Struble said, he will enjoy the longest vacation he’s had since he was a teenager.
Struble left for Florida after his last day of work, just avoiding the snowstorm that hit last weekend. On Thursday, Struble said, he was enjoying 80-degree temperatures and the sunshine.
“I planned to get away,” he said, “because the department has pretty much been my life for 27 years.”
“I couldn’t have picked a better December to get away,” Struble added.
With the incoming storm, Struble said, he couldn’t help but think about his former job duties with the department.
“Immediately having a big storm coming in, my mind automatically shifted into ‘what do we need to do to prepare?’” Struble said. “I caught myself thinking about what I needed to do the next day.”
But the anxiety disappeared as soon as he touched down in Florida, Struble said. Upon his return, he will be gearing up for more hours and more responsibility at UNH. During the spring semester, he will be teaching two graduate level classes and one undergraduate class. Preparing for those classes is “the most urgent thing,” he said. By mid-semester, Struble said, his focus will also have to fall on a new undergraduate program in para-medicine. Struble will help lead the program, which has yet to receive accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The program should be through the approval process by March, he said.
“What I’m bringing to the program is personal experience in being a fire chief and what it takes to run a fire department,” Struble said.
The four-year program will certify students as paramedics and teach them the skills necessary to work as a firefighter, he said. Such hybrid skill sets are in high demand. In Wallingford, between 70 and 80 percent of calls were for emergency medical services, he said. For 14 years as fire chief, Struble said, he always looked to hire employees who could fight fires and provide medical assistance. Students will be very attractive for fire departments looking to hire, Struble said. “I believe they’ll be in high demand when they graduate.”
The para-medicine program will give students a clear path to their career goals, Struble added. Currently, there really isn’t a clear career path for high school graduates looking to become paramedics.
“Unless they have someone to guide them, it’s taking a long time,” he said. “We wanted to take the best and brightest out of high school and provide them a clear vision and path.”
Since Struble’s retirement, Deputy Chief Rich Heidgerd has served as acting fire chief. Struble said he is not part of the hiring process because there are internal candidates applying. Heidgerd said Thursday he is part of the applicant pool. Assistant Personnel Director James Hutt said the application process was set to close today. From that point, interviews would begin in January. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. must ultimately appoint the new fire chief. Dickinson was not available for comment Thursday.
Heidgerd said that since Struble left, “everybody is stepping up.”
“It’s a department-wide effort,” Heidgerd said. “When you lose that much experience at the top of an organization, everyone needs to pitch in to make sure things run smoothly, and they have.”
Struble said he expects the new fire chief to “do a better job than me.”
Change for an organization is healthy, he said.
“Change is good for me, and change is good for the department as well.”