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Raymond’s Long-Time Fire Chief Kevin Pratt Retires May 1
By Penny Williams   4-18-17

Raymond's long-time Fire Chief, Kevin Pratt, is retiring effective May 1. He has been in the fire service in one way or another for almost all of his life, and his firefighting roots go back to his grandfather, who was fire chief in Raymond, and to his father, who served the department as well.

But Pratt has been a staple with the department for more years than his family members, logging in 42 years, 29 of them as Fire Chief.

Pratt said he has always been driven by his desire to help and care for others. He added that he is happy to have been able to help his fellow community members through the years, but there comes a time when his dedication to the career he loves and the Department he serves has to take second place to his family.

"My family has always taken second place to the needs of the fire department and helping people," he said. "It is time to start giving back to my family. My wife has always been super understanding, but the time has come when I need to look out for my family, take care of my land and get something ready for my daughter and her family. I have work to do on my house, (my daughter) Crystal's house, and land to get set, tend to my honey bees, and get the electric fence going to keep the bear out. And it will be nice to be able to go camping."

Pratt began accompanying his grandfather in his fire truck as a youngster. He recalled that he was allowed to attend training sessions and to fill the truck and help redo the hoses.

 

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"Can't do that today with the laws and liability issues," he said as he smiled at his two young grandchildren running around the fire station in firefighter outfits, with their father just a step or two behind. But his daughter, Crystal, did grow up much as he did, involved with the fire department from an early age.

"Thanks to my dad, I have always been involved," she said. "I used to hang out at the old fire station. Dad was always gone, which was hard, but he loves helping people and that is what it was all about. I was able to learn all about firefighting from my dad and do everything with him. I have always enjoyed that and I will miss being able to do that once he retires. He encouraged me, and I was involved with firefighting when I was in high school and went to college for degrees in Fire Science and Fire Investigation.

“I love it - I loved going on calls with my dad, riding with him and always being the first on scene,” she added. “I learned so much from him, especially about how to deal with different situations."

Fighting back tears, Crystal said she was proud about everything where her dad is concerned, especially his friendly, caring attitude and his commitment to helping people. She said that since word of his retirement has gotten out, she has been flooded with calls from people he has helped over the years.

Crystal joined the Raymond Fire Department in 2004 and was involved in the Explorers for four years prior to that. She met her husband, a Raymond call firefighter lieutenant and a full-time member of the Laconia Fire Department, while attending college. They have two children, Samuel, 4, and Lily, 1.

The chief said he formally joined the Raymond Fire Department in 1975. "Every time we go out the door we help at least one person, and helping people ranges from fire rescues to helping with a door lockout, something we are pleased to say we still do when asked," he said.

Pratt took over as chief in 1988 and at that time had to go to everything, so he was working all day and then was out at night. He said he figured there was a better way to do things and instituted a stipend system to compensate firefighters who had to come in nights.

He noted that over the years there have been a lot of changes and improvements. "I started as chief when we were still at the station downtown," he said. "Then the trucks started to become a problem because they didn't fit in the building - they were too tall and then they were too long as well. So we built this station in 1990 for $780,000."

Looking back he said he worked hard with others to reduce the cost of the new building from the original $1.2 million figure. They chose a metal structure, cutting the cost almost in half. But, he said, that is what it was all about, getting the building that was needed at a cost the townspeople could handle.

"We've been very happy here and we have all we have needed," he said of the fire station. "There are no frills but we haven't needed any. However, decontamination is something that is more important today and we need more storage capacity.

"It has been a real team effort, and we've had success here because of the team," he said, citing Assistant Chief Paul Hammond and Deputy Chiefs Micol Greenwood and Rusty Larrabee.

Before joining the Raymond department full time, Pratt worked as Fire Brigade Leader at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. That job was strictly related to fire protection services, and Pratt said he has been much happier at the Raymond Fire Department, where he could help people, take part in events and parades, and work with the Scouts. He said being part of the Raymond Fire Department provided him the opportunity to work with other town fire departments and get to know them as well.

 

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"It is the satisfaction I get from being able to help people that makes this such a wonderful experience," he said. "I get to help people oftentimes at the worst moments in their lives."

In the midst of his career, he took time from his local duties to fight wildfires near Missoula, Montana and in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state, near the Oregon border. That gave him experience with fires that ranged over a thousand acres and required 700 firefighters. Pratt noted that the Gifford Pinchot fire was in sight of Mount St. Helens, before that volcano blew in 1980.

One of the high points for him was the arrival of the Walmart Distribution Center in Raymond, a 1.2 million-square-foot structure, requiring trucks and plans and procedures to be put in place to address the new facility. He said it is always easier and better to do fire protection measures up front, and added the Town’s Technical Review Committee still spends a lot of time and effort making sure fire safety protections are addressed before construction or development begins. He said much of this type of work is involved with the Mutual Aid Association, which encompasses 50 towns and of which he has been president three or four times.

Pratt has been president of the State Fire Chiefs and said he enjoyed getting to know the chiefs from around the state and visiting many departments. The thread that ran through all these associations is the commitment and the values the older generation of firefighters reflect and try to pass on to the younger generation.

"We are all in this business because we love it and for the same reason, to be able to help people," he said.

"I have held every position in this department over the years," Pratt said. "We have always been big on training as a department, and that has always been important."

Asked if he will miss being involved, he was quick to say he would continue as Forest Fire Warden and Emergency Management Director for the Town, was confident he would be in touch with the department going forward, but that the time had come when he needed to put family first and fire service second. He added that he expects to keep plenty busy.

At the Monday, April 17 Board of Selectmen meeting, Pratt addressed the selectmen and received their congratulations on his retirement. He noted that he has responded to 6,250 calls during his career, and now it was time for his family.

Selectman Jack Barnes, a former long-time state senator, recalled that he was serving as selectman “when we stole you from the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. You’ve done a good job and you’ve been a great friend. And you have represented the department and the fire service well up in Concord.”

Selectman Wayne Welch told Pratt he had done a great service to the community over the years, and Selectman George Plante called Pratt a “great man.”

Pratt was given a standing ovation by the selectmen.

Town Manager Craig Wheeler announced that Assistant Chief Paul Hammond has been appointed acting chief. “I know that he can step in and do a good job,” Wheeler said, adding that he would be meeting the following day with the call firefighters to discuss the process for replacing the fire chief. He is considering a New England area search for Pratt’s replacement, and encouraged existing fire officers and firefighters to put their names into consideration.

“Our number one priority is the safety of this community.” Wheeler said, noting that it was Pratt’s priority as well and is shared by Hammond and the rest of Raymond’s firefighters.

The Raymond Firefighter’s Association, Raymond Ambulance, Inc., and the chief’s family will host an open house to honor Pratt beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 6 at the Fire Department, 1 Scribner Road. The event continues until the last person leaves.