NAUGATUCK — They will tell you, to a person, that being a career firefighter is not for everyone.
Firefighters work nights and weekends. They leave their families on holidays to make sure other families are safe. They rush into burning buildings to save people and property, remove drivers from cars that have crashed and often see horrific events that never leave the mind’s eye.
Still, to a person, all three veteran Naugatuck firefighters who called it a career last week will tell you that firefighting is “the best profession in the world.”
Lt. Glen Noll, firefighter/assistant mechanic James Ricci Jr. and firefighter Leonard Patterson were all hired by the Naugatuck Fire Department on the same day, Aug. 6, 1990. On Aug. 4, they all officially retired before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.
Ricci and Patterson, who were working at the downtown headquarters Aug. 4, walked over to Town Hall to thank burgesses and Mayor Robert Mezzo for the opportunity to serve the borough and the public.
On Aug. 6, Noll worked his final shift at the East Side Fire Station on May Street. While he and co-workers cooked steak sandwiches, he spoke about how much he would miss the profession.
“I’m probably going to miss coming to work, seeing the guys, going out there helping people,” he said. “It’s always different every day.”
Noll, who has been an officer for 15 years, said he doesn’t mind jumping in to help someone at a motor vehicle accident or even entering a home that is on fire. It’s what he is sworn to do and he takes pride in saving people and property.
“The downside, and what I won’t miss, is the things I have seen,” he said. “And things you’ve seen you cannot un-see. … We do see things that are upsetting, and I think the worst part is when it’s a little kid. I don’t mind getting dirty and physical and helping people out. That is awesome. But when it’s a little child involved or somebody young that just bothers me.”
As an officer, Noll said, it has been his responsibility to make sure the firefighters who respond to difficult scenes are doing well both physically and mentally when they return. It’s a responsibility he has taken seriously because he cares about his fellow firefighters.
“I have enjoyed working for the Borough of Naugatuck and thank them for the opportunity to do this and help them and help the community. … I’ve had the fortune of having very good bosses that I’ve worked with.”
At the downtown headquarters on Old Firehouse Road, Patterson and Ricci explained that they do the job to help other people.
“I guess you can say it’s about the way you were brought up,” Ricci said. “We have compassion for others and want to be there for other people.”
He called fire service a brotherhood and a second family.
Patterson, who started his career in emergency services as a volunteer on the Terryville Ambulance Association, said he will miss the friendships he has made throughout his career. And he will miss the ability to help people in Naugatuck, either through day-to-day firefighting or the several community nonprofit organizations that the Naugatuck Fire Department donates to.
“There are people who might want to go into this and it might not be right for them,” he said. “So it definitely takes that type of person to do this. It’s not for everybody. But anyone who decides they want get into this can have a great career. They should study hard because it all pays off in interviews.”
Ricci said that in the beginning, he viewed firefighting as more of a hobby than a career. He started as a volunteer in the Yalesville Volunteer Fire Department in 1986.
“I actually never viewed it as a career,” he said. “I looked at it as a job that I would love to do every day.”
Ricci was involved with the local fire union for 18 years and said he despises the politics involved with the job. In fact, he called the politics of the job “disgusting.”
Still, he said, the ability to help people in their darkest moments is gratifying.
Three months ago, Ricci was reminded of why emergency responders are so vital to a community. He and Patterson were washing a fire engine when someone said there was a woman with a thank you card in the doorway. It was the mother of a 12-year-old girl, Jada Ivory, who drowned in the Naugatuck River on May 12. The Naugatuck Fire Department and firefighters from other local communities joined Naugatuck police officers and the Naugatuck Ambulance Association for hours searching for Jada. They did all they could to save her but she had been under water for about an hour before firefighters located her.
“That actually crushed me,” Ricci said. “When she came to the door, I said, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I’m the mother of the 12-year-old girl who drowned in the river.’ And then she said ‘thank you.’ We couldn’t even help her. The guys on shift that day, along with the police officers and emergency responders, did everything they could, but we couldn’t help her. But I find it amazing that someone who has a tragic moment like that still has the compassion to thank us.”