Watertown’s fire chief reflects on 34 year career

wwny Watertown’s fire chief reflects on 34 year career

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - After 34 years with the Watertown's Fire Department, Chief Dale Herman will retire at the end of the month. We sat down with him as he took a look back on his career.

Displayed on the wall of the Massey Street Fire Station are the pictures of past fire chiefs. Soon, Chief Dale Herman's photo will be among them. Herman is set to retire on Feburary 28. After 34 years with the department, he still remembers his first day on the job and being told that his career would diminish his life expectancy by 10 years.

"That's why I'm calling it quits at 59 rather than staying until 62 because if my life is going to be shortened by 10 years by the job that I did, I want to enjoy the time that I have after the career because it could be very short," he said.

Herman was hired as a firefighter in January of 1986. In fact, he's the last guy on the job who was hired in the 80s. Herman then worked his way up through the ranks and was appointed chief of the department in August of 2010.

Over those 34 years, Herman fought a lot of fires, but one that sticks with him came just 3 years into the job in 1989 when a fire was set at Midtown Towers, killing 3 people. He recalls arriving to the scene and what a captain told him.

"He said, 'Set this thing, kid,' and I say, 'Okay.' Again 3 years on the job you got a captain telling you to set a ladder truck for a pretty big incident and I didn't let him down. I got it set," said Herman.

Herman says when he started with the department, getting a nickname was important and after responding to his first fire on Bridge Street he got the nickname "Bull." But nowadays, everyone calls him chief. And in that role, Herman saw through the completion of a 5-year project that put a radio in every firefighter's hands, at times played referee between the fire union and city hall, but most of all, he just wanted to be a good leader.

"I tried to instill in my people and be a role model of what I think a chief ought to be. A chief should have good ethics, should be a leader, should be a listener and give good directions and so I tried to emulate that as best I can. And in doing so, hopefully I've made this fire department better and the community safer in my efforts," he said.

Herman plans to continue teaching fire courses for New York state. But he says he's looking forward to traveling and spending time at home with his wife and a little more peace and quiet.

“I won’t have a scanner in my bedroom anymore that I’ll be listening to. The guys log in their apparatus at 0-700 in the morning, I won’t hear that, 'Hey, we need a line laid on this one at 3 a.m. in the morning. Maybe I’ll get a good night’s sleep after 34-plus years of working for the city,” said Herman.

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