PLAINVILLE — Over his more than two decades of installing smoke detectors, ensuring that homes have proper escape routes and teaching children about fire safety, retiring Fire Marshal Larry Sutherland hopes to have made life a little less busy for local firefighters by stopping fires before they can even begin.
“The better prevention programs, the less people get injured” and property gets damaged, said Sutherland, who is retiring effective Feb. 3. He has served as the town’s fire marshal since 2000, before which he worked in the office as a building inspector and the deputy fire marshal for five years.
“I'm very happy to report that we’ve reduced our incidents of fire. Generally we respond to roughly, it depends on the year, 480 calls a year … but I can say that probably — without going into the hard copy reports here — I can say a large percentage of those calls are routine calls and not calls for fires. I'd like to say some of the work we've done in our office has reduced the threat of fires to our residences,” he said.
Much of that work took the form of inspecting the thousands of homes across the town. That includes around 2,200 apartments, many of which are required to be checked out annually, according to state regulations, a daunting task for such a small department.
What Sutherland said he’ll miss the most though is working directly with residents, especially in the schools where he believes he could make a lasting difference.
“At that age you can make such a huge (impact) on them, so that’s something I'm going to miss. I'm going to miss working with the daycares in town and schools,” he said.
The American Red Cross helped him canvas the town to identify areas where homes were less likely to have smoke detectors installed and donated 120 of the detectors to residents. Home Depot and WTNH News 8 also make an annual smoke detector donation, which he distributes across town and will help install in the homes of some elderly or disabled residents.
Sutherland’s firefighting days even extend far before his time with the fire marshal’s office. Following his father’s example, he joined the Plainville Volunteer Fire Department at 21, then the minimum age, in 1975. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant and served one term as the department’s assistant fire chief around 1993.
“It’s a very gratifying career, I hope that I’ve made a good impact on safety in the town,” he said.
Assistant to the town manager also leaving Plainville
After four years of working in the Town Manager’s Office as an intern and assistant to the town manager, Colby will be moving on to the town of Windsor to serve as its assistant town manager. His last day in Plainville is Jan. 23.
“There’s a lot of opportunity and new challenges that I feel are beneficial for my professional career and growth,” said Colby, who is a resident of Windsor. “ … A lot of it was looking at a larger town and a lot of things happening.”
Colby came to Plainville as an intern with Westfield State University in Massachusetts in October 2015 and continued working with the town part time until he was promoted to the assistant to the town manager position in August 2016. Town Manager Robert Lee said he quickly began taking on a larger role in the some of the bigger projects his office was involved in, including being the lead staff person for the Wheeler Elementary School renovation and upgrades being made to the town’s water pollution control facility.
“I think he picks things up quickly. He's a hard worker and he takes the amount of time that's necessary to get the job done. He’s not looking at the clock,” Lee said.
Colby also took on the responsibility for much of the legwork in drafting the town manager’s municipal budget request in recent years. The budget documents he helped create have won the Government Finance Officers Association’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award every year that Colby has served as the assistant to the town manager and he was awarded certificates from the association recognizing his contribution.
“He’s proven himself in a relatively short period of time,” Lee said.
Being able to help residents face-to-face and resolve issues for them, though, was one of the aspects of his time in Plainville that he enjoyed most, and which was his original reason for becoming interested in working in government.
“It was being able to help people, that was the big thing. I wanted to make a difference and try to make people’s lives a little easier” he said.