After nearly 27 years, Chuck Emery retires from Turners Fire

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — After almost 27 years of service and fond memories at the Turners Falls Fire Department, Charles “Chuck” Emery is retiring.

But he’s not done working yet.

Emery, 54, has worked full-time at the Highway Division of Greenfield’s Department of Public Works for four years and plans to continue that job. But with his newly acquired free time, he plans to spend more time with his family, especially since he recently became a grandfather to a baby girl.

Emery has lived in Turners Falls since he was 7. He knows people on every street, and said being a part of the Fire Department helped him get to know the community even better.

So, unlike many New England retirees, he has no plans to move to Florida.

“I wouldn’t want to start over somewhere else,” he said. “I have a lot invested here. It’s a good town.”

The call force

Emery worked as a call firefighter. He noted that while it wasn’t a full-time position, he was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“I still had to do everything that was expected of the permanent force,” he said. “Over the years, I got really good at a lot of things.”

He wore many hats at the department, too.

“I’ve been on every position on the hose,” he said, adding that he’s also been incident commander, driver and more.

“I’ve seen it all because I’ve been here so long,” he said.

Good memories

Emery fondly recalled one of his early days on the force as a new firefighter.

“You hear the pager go off and you’re like, ‘this is the big one,’ and you race to the station and get excited,” he said, laughing.

He was rushing for a call, with hardly any time to properly lace his boots. After stopping the truck, he ran out and fell flat on his face because he unknowingly tied his shoelaces together.

The chief at the time had some words of advice for him after witnessing his spill: “We really appreciate your eagerness, but slow down. You can’t make them all.”

Emery has recalled those words ever since, reiterating that it’s true that even the best firefighters can’t make every call.

While he won’t be on the call force any longer, he still plans to be part of the Firemen’s Relief Association and raise money for local schools.

“I’m going to stay active with the department where I can,” he said.

An early introduction

Some family ties helped Emery gain interest in becoming part of the department.

“When I was a kid, my grandfather was on the Deerfield Fire Department,” he fondly recalled. “Every time he had a call, I’d go with him. I always loved it.”

After he graduated high school, he tried to get into the department but had no success.

“They told me there was a mile-long list (to get in), and I never heard from them,” he said.

Years later, Emery worked at the local paper mill as a groundsman. Coincidentally, the fire chief was there one day, and the chief asked him why he hadn’t joined the department. Emery explained that he tried before, but there was a list.

“There’s no list anymore!” exclaimed the chief.

The very next day, Emery was sworn in at the chief’s house. The day after that, he received his gear, thus beginning almost three decades of service to the community.

“I always want to help people,” Emery said, explaining that he originally tried to get into the military but was denied for a medical reason. “I always wanted to give back to my community, if not my country.”

Two sets of families

Family support has been an integral part of Emery’s long career with the fire department. Of course, there were many times where his wife was worried, but she never held him back.

“My wife never wanted to deter me,” he said.

He missed “a lot of meals,” sometimes even Thanksgiving dinner. And there were many meals where he had to get up in the middle and leave. But his wife only had one rule for him when he got a call: give her and the kids a kiss before he leaves.

“You have to have a lot of support,” he said.

Emery said the Fire Department is close to his heart, too.

“They’re my second family,” he said. “We have a history. It’s a very close-knit group.”

‘A bad call’

“I’ve got so many memories,” Emery said. “All good, but not all good. You know what I mean. There’s been a few bad calls where things went bad and people got hurt or killed.”

Emery recalled upsetting times where he’s had to carry deceased pets out of buildings. He also recalled the biggest scare of his career.

Back when one of his sons was around 15 years old, he went out driving with some friends. That same night, Emery got called to the scene of a serious car crash. When he pulled up, he saw a car that hit a concrete abutment and rolled over “four or five times” before coming to rest approximately 10 feet from a house.

“We pull up and I went right to the car, extraction tool in hand,” he recalled. “All the windows were blown out.”

Emery began to get choked up as he recalled the event.

After running up to the car, he saw a gravely injured male passenger and froze.

“Jimmy, tell me that’s not Brandon,” he said, begging the fire captain to confirm the passenger wasn’t his own son.

The captain assured him it wasn’t, but Emery was still shaken.

“That was my first fatal,” he said. “I went into a period of depression for a few months.”

After the event, the captain pulled him aside, acknowledging that he knew it was Emery’s first time responding to a fatal. He also told Emery that he would have told him the passenger wasn’t his son even if it was, because Emery needed to be present for the job at hand no matter what.

“We have a job to do,” Emery said. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”

He also recalled that the captain told him: “Grief is later. Job is now.”

“It’s not all unicorns and rainbows,” he said. “It’s hours of boredom superseded by minutes of terror. You never know what you’re going to get, so you always have to expect the worst and hope for the best.”

Despite some difficult calls, Emery said he has truly enjoyed his time at the department.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” he said.

Reach Christie Wisniewski at: cwisniewski@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280