After 57 years, firefighter set to retire
Retiring Wendell Fire Chief Everett Ricketts stands by the already retired Engine 1, built in 1976, the year Ricketts became chief.
WENDELL — Chief Everett Ricketts is reaching the end of 57 years of service on the town’s fire department.
Ricketts joined the Wendell Fire Department in 1957, and became chief in 1976. Now 77, Ricketts will retire at the end of the month.
“The Selectboard asked me if I’m going to travel when I retire,” he said. “I told them I already have.”
Ricketts has traveled by plane, train and automobile, but his favorite way to travel is by cruise ship, preferably one bound for the Caribbean.
He didn’t wait until he retired to do the things he loves and he doesn’t think anyone else should either.
Ricketts learned the value of a dollar well before he had to manage a miniscule municipal budget.
“We were well off growing up, but my parents never let us know it.”
When he and his brother wanted spending money, they’d shovel sidewalks, shine shoes and do whatever odd jobs they could for a nickel or a dime. Later, Ricketts found work as a pin-setter in a Boston bowling alley, the most lucrative of his early occupations.
He moved to Wendell from Boston in 1955 to raise pigs with his brother, who stayed in the city at first. They picked Wendell because it was the closest place to Boston where the amount of land they needed was both affordable and available.
Before too long, he found himself becoming a firefighter. He said the department was a lot less formal when he joined in 1957.
“It was just neighbor helping neighbor, and before I knew it, I was on the department.”
He found work as a surface grinder at Union Twist Drill in Athol the year he moved to town. He stayed until the plant was bought by a conglomerate in 1983 and closed.
At the time, he and some former coworkers went to evening classes at Franklin County Technical School and were trained in the trades. He went on to become a woodworker at the Northfield Mount Hermon School, where some of his classmates also found work.
He stayed there until 1997, when he retired.
He and his late wife, Jackie, raised four children in Wendell. When the town built a combined highway garage and fire station in 1988, it honored her by naming the road “Jackie Lane.”
Their children gave them eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. The family is a bit spread out, with his youngest daughter in Hawaii, a son in Phoenix, Ariz., his oldest son and daughter in Wendell and Greenfield, and some of his grandchildren living in the south.
Ricketts’ is a familiar face in the small town, where people call him Everett rather than chief. Perhaps it’s his warm personality or sense of humor that puts people on a first-name basis. This reporter set off for a short interview with Ricketts Saturday, and left the fire station three hours later, not knowing how the time could pass so quickly.
While chatting, Ricketts frequently answered the phone at the station, as people called in for burning permits.
“I’m going to have a fire today, Everett,” said one.
“OK, but please try to keep it outdoors,” Ricketts replied.
Much has changed in firefighting since a 20-year-old Ricketts first picked up a hose.
“It used to be simple,” he said. “You just put the wet stuff on the red stuff. Now, there’s a lot more involved.”
Still a volunteer department, it’s never been a full-time gig for Ricketts.
Also, Ricketts said he’s seen Wendell change since he joined the department, from a town that would only fund a bare-bones budget, to one more willing to invest in its departments.
Starting out, he couldn’t imagine the department with high-tech equipment like the thermal imagers.
When the Finance Committee advised against buying a few handheld radios for the firefighters in the 1970s, Ricketts rose and convinced the town meeting otherwise.
“I’m used to playing the budget close to the bone,” he said. “Nowadays, they tell (department heads) if we want something, to ask for it.”
That doesn’t mean they’re sure to get it. Ricketts said it still takes some convincing for the small town that spending a little more can save them in the long run.
“If you buy something right, you only have to buy it once,” he said, and cheaper things often need to be replaced sooner.
“My father used to always say ‘don’t trip over a dollar to pick up a dime.’”
He’s still thrifty. When the department replaced its tanker’s steel tank with a more durable plastic one, it was going to cost $12,000 to have the new tank lettered and lighted. Instead, Ricketts and his firefighters strung the lights and put on the decals themselves.
He said he’s always tried to have the trucks worked on in-house when possible.
“It makes no sense to pay someone $80 to install a $15 part.”
He may be a little less tight with his personal purse-strings.
“I say if you want to do something, go somewhere, or buy something, do it,” he said. “I had a friend who was tight with his money all of his life, always saving and never spending.”
That friend died a week after his retirement, never getting to enjoy his nest egg.
“Tomorrow is never promised to you,” he said. “Live while you’re alive, because you’ll be a long time dead.”
You can reach David Rainville at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279