Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Takes a New Path in Life

by Andrea Dannewitz

Deputy Chief Wallace at his best … teaching and learning

A new year and a new way of life … that’s what is in the immediate future of Salem Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Mike Wallace, as he officially retired from the department on December 31.  After a 25-year career and 22 years at Salem Fire Department, Mike has had an amazing career and has served the Town of Salem well.  He personally thanks the town for the great opportunity and career he was given and the educational opportunities he gained from the experience.  As he wrote in his letter to Chief Kevin Breen and the Town of Salem, “I have been with the Salem Fire Department for almost 22 years and have enjoyed every moment of it.  Since I began in 1987, we have created one of the most successful and innovative fire and EMS organizations in New Hampshire.  It is with much thought and deliberation that I have made this decision.  After discussing this with my family, and considering my personal goals and my continuing journey as an individual, I believe that I have made the right decision.  I have given the fire department my best over the years, and I am proud of my accomplishments.  It is time for me to retire.  I have served the Salem Fire Department and its citizens for over 22 years.  The department and citizens have been a central part of my life.  While I look forward to the opportunities retirement will bring me, it still saddens me to be leaving this great organization.  I will miss the many personal and professional relationships that I have developed while here…”

A 22-year career with Salem Fire Department does not go unnoticed.  Mike has made great strides in being a key player in the development of the department.  Much has changed over the years.  Let’s take a look back on Mike’s years of firefighting:

In June of 1984 he became a third generation firefighter with Windham Fire Department.  It was his desire to grow and move up within a fire service organization, and he saw that potential at Salem Fire Department.  He served with Windham Fire Department until 1987.  He then signed on with Salem Fire Department in August of 1987.  On October 25, 1992, Mike Wallace was promoted to Lieutenant of Engine 1.  Looking back on his career, Mike said the most fun years he had was with his comrades as the Lieutenant on Engine 1.  He thoroughly enjoyed being “with the guys.”  Ten years later, it was time to keep on growing.  He was granted an opportunity to enter the promotional process to Deputy Chief, which he had always known he had wanted to do.  Being a Chief Fire Officer was not only in his blood but a personal goal that he successfully achieved in July of 2002.

His opportunity for a great education was a great benefit to Mike.  He obtained his Associate’s Degree in Fire Science from the New Hampshire Technical College in 1992.  His drive to constantly learn, improve, and teach kept him going to school for many years.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Administration and Emergency Management from Rivier College, a Master’s Degree in Business Management and Leadership from Franklin Pierce College, and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix.  Many may think it is not easy to obtain a Master’s Degree in anything, but compared to some of the other educational roads Mike took, he thinks those were a piece of cake.  Mike also holds the titles of Chief Fire Officer Designation, Executive Fire Officer Designation, and a MIFireE from the Institution of Fire Engineers (an internationally recognized title).  These officer designations are very difficult to obtain and take a lot of time, effort, and dedication from the individual who wishes to be a future chief.

During his time with Salem Fire Department, he has done much more than obtain an education.  During his first year on the job (1987), he witnessed the transition of our ambulance service.

“Back then, ambulances were more like a first-aid kit with wheels, like a band-aid box.  Now they are literally portable emergency rooms with medication, Advanced Life Support (ALS), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP, which is for congestive heart failure patients), and much-improved technology that made way for life-saving medical equipment.  Back in 1987 when Salem changed their ambulance service, Derry and Salem were the first to have it.  That was a major leap back then,” said Mike.

While he was just beginning his position as Deputy Chief under Fire Chief Arthur Barnes and soon after Chief Kevin Breen, they, along with Assistant Fire Chief Paul Parisi, created the proactive approach to disaster preparedness.  Mike and the other chief officers created the disaster preparedness plan for the Town of Salem, and then Mike wrote the grants to obtain the funding for it.  He proved successful several times over and was able to get the funding to put the plans in action with little to no cost to the taxpayers.

“The perfect example of using these plans is the 2008 ice storm.  We didn’t panic because we are prepared and we know we can do it.  We know how and when to declare a state of emergency and how to get the town financially reimbursed, as disasters are costly.  This town was back up and running before most of the surrounding communities affected, showing how effective the plan is.  I am very pleased to have been a part of the grant writing team to get the needed funding for our emergency management plans, equipment, and mass casualty trailer,” said Mike.

The grants he helped write also took care of funding for more firefighters/EMT’s, equipment, expansion of services, the homeland security trailer (which the state places strategically around the state for response to a major biohazard or need for mass inoculation).  He is proud to have been a part of this, and he should be, as it helped make Salem a better and safer place to live.

His “on-the-job” memories are endless, but he did speak of a few that really stood out in his mind.

On December 11,1995, Salem Fire Department responded to Lawrence, MA for mutual aid during the major wind-whipped fire that completely destroyed three buildings at Malden Mills.

“I will never forget seeing that six-story building burning to the ground, just completely engulfed.  That was the biggest fire I have ever seen,” Mike said, while remembering that cold, windy night. 

The summer of 2006 he recalled the “car versus propane tank” incident that occurred on North Broadway at Salem Marketplace.  A vehicle crashed into the large propane tank on the property near the business signs, causing the valve to break and leak propane continuously for 72 hours.  Mike responded and was the commander on shift, which turned into a 72-hour shift.  He is still known as the only man to ever successfully close route 28 in its entirety from the Methuen, MA line to the Windham, NH line for 72 hours.  Mike recalled what a challenging incident it was, as they had to douse the propane vapors with 2,000 gallons of water per minute until the tank ran out of propane 72 hours later.  Mike said that Salem Fire Department was recognized by the State of New Hampshire for their knowledge of how to safely handle such an incident, and their coordinated work with Salem Police Department, Department of Public Works, and also the propane company.

Mike has also seen some humorous moments on the job.  He recalled an incident where he was riding in the ambulance to a call for an elderly woman complaining of chest pains.  It turned out she was having a panic attack but was transported to the hospital so she could be checked out by a doctor for precaution.  While en route to the hospital, Mike recalls being right there with her, on the phone with the hospital, and also finishing up her paperwork, when she leaned over to him and tapped him ever so lightly, saying, “Sonny, I’m sorry to bother you, but I think I just died!”  He stopped what he was doing, looked at her as she pointed to the heart monitor, seeing it had flat lined, but yet she was fine.  He completely kept his composure and showed her that she had disconnected from the heart monitor, assuring her that she certainly had not died, that she was okay, and he was right there with her.  He recalled with a chuckle how she must have been quite concerned when seeing the monitor flat line but she was more concerned about not interrupting him.

With the funny stuff comes the sad.  Mike said he has also seen some of the saddest situations while on the job.  Many he cannot talk about, but, in a nutshell, he expressed how sad it is when EMS has to intervene as more of a social service.

“We see people at their worst, and the toughest thing is to see EMS act as a social service assisting neglected people or people in need of help and services, not medical aid.  Because of it, I have learned a lot.  People allow us in their homes and private lives while they are at their worst.  They trust and respect us.  It truly is a privilege to hold the shield,” said Mike.

The memories and time with his brothers and sisters at Salem Fire Department, Mike will always hold dear.  But now at age 45, retirement is a new beginning, not an end to a career that he loved so dearly.  So what is next for Mike?  First, his three beautiful girls — wife Meg and daughters Brittany and Michaela.  The ultimate sacrifice for all firefighters is their precious time with loved ones.  Mike has had to miss many weekends, holidays, and birthdays to serve the community.  His main goal is to spend much time with them.  He thanks them from the bottom of his heart for their support and understanding.  Without them he could not have succeeded as he did.  They are already enjoying having him home, though they are still getting accustomed to him being home so much now.  Both of Mike’s daughters are active in sports, a love he shares with them.  He absolutely cannot wait to get out there and coach them and be at all the games and practices.  When he isn’t doing all the things that he loves, such as cooking, working out, and being active in sports, he loves to teach, and, though he has been doing it for quite some time, he can’t wait to teach more often.  Since 1992, Mike has taught HazMat Incident Management at the National Fire Academy in Emmetsburg, MD.  Prior to retirement, he had to arrange for time off to do so; now he’s as free as a bird to go on and teach all he can.  He also intends to teach classes for the Executive Fire Officers program, helping to mold future fire chief officers into their eventual roles.  The class he will teach is Strategic Analysis of Community Risk Reduction, which teaches how to create plans for natural and man-made disasters.  He said that firefighters aspiring to be chief officers come from all over the United States and the world to attend classes at the National Fire Academy.

When he is not teaching, he has other plans on the agenda to keep busy.  He intends to work part-time for a consulting firm for towns and cities looking for assistance in strategic planning, recruiting, promotional processes, and organizational assessments.  Mike also owns his own consulting firm, Wallace Training Associates, which is geared toward OSHA training, first-aid, CPR, leadership management and training, HazMat, terrorism, and school safety.  He said, “The town’s investment in me allows me to provide my knowledge to other communities so they can invest in themselves and have what Salem has — in essence, paying it forward.  I thank the community for the great opportunity to become more educated and to raise my family.  I had a great career here, and without citizens of Salem I could not have done it.”

Who knows, maybe in the future we will see Mike get his hand in town government; if not in Salem, then maybe another very lucky community.  Mike says he does not have plans to do this now, but possibly in the future.  Right now he is looking to take life a little slower and do all those things he enjoys that he has not had time to do over the past 25 years.

Mike’s 22 years of service to the Salem community has made him somebody very easy to miss, and, as he put it, without the chief officers that molded him throughout his career, making him the person he is today, he would not have been successful without them, their teachings, and support.  He cherishes them and thanks them for all they have done for him.  But at 45 years old, he has already spent half of his life at Salem Fire Department…and so his new journey begins.

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Haigh Math Day

by Robyn Hatch

Miss O’Rourke, playing with her 3rd grade students

Once again, Haigh has a way of making the school day fun and exciting.  This day started out with an ‘Everyday Math Day’ for parents.  All grades sat with parents and friends and explained games that can make Math really fun and exciting to learn.  There was ‘Name That Number’ – ‘Top-It Games’ – ‘Number Top-It’ – ‘Bunny Hop’ – and ‘Baseball Multiplication’ – to name just a few.  The parents were surprised at how advanced Math has become and how fun traditional learning has been made challenging and different for all age and learning abilities.

To end the day, an assembly for all grades and parents was put on for ‘We Deliver’ and ‘Students of the Month’.  This occurs quite often, but the students really look forward to getting certificates for good deeds, behavior, etc.  This month focused on being kind and caring to others, as well as helping students and staff members.  White certificates and photos of each to hang on the hallway walls were quickly given out.  The grand finale was with the ‘Wee Deliver’ program that goes on in the school yearly to get the students writing and communicating with parents, community, and school staff.  The Post Office actually gives feedback and instruction of the different jobs given to the students.  Danielle Demers was all smiles when she received the Postmaster award.  The day ended with a lot of happy faces and a desire to learn and show more Math skills to parents.  Again, Haigh – great job!

Gus Ouellette and grandson, Kyle, working with dominos (Miss Zargiel -1st grade)

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Artists’ Christmas

by Robyn Hatch

Winner Kate Colacchio from Windham

The Greater Salem Artists Association got together to celebrate Christmas because their original party was snowed out.  This was a time for new resolutions, a time to challenge, a time to get out of the “comfort zone”.  It was nice to meet and share ideas of the love for art.  Larry Kaufman from Windham was present to give out a scholarship in memory of his wife, Edith Kaufman, who was also a budding artist who died over nine years ago.  Instead of flowers and reminders, he has been giving out a scholarship every year (this is his eighth scholarship) to a person who is striving in an accredited art school to benefit in an artistic career.  He donates $750 to the student once they have completed their first year, and the Artist Association gives $250 to that same student.  This year’s deserving winner is Kate Colacchio, also from Windham.  Kate is studying photography at the Fashion Technical Institution in New York City.  She likes portraits but wants to experience all areas of photography.  Good job Kate, and keep shooting!

Larry Kaufman, pointing to a painting done by his wife before she died

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Budget Committee Cuts Kindergarten Funds from School District Budget

by Andrea Dannewitz

All New Hampshire public schools are required to provide kindergarten by fall 2009.  Salem is currently one of nine communities in the country (the other eight are in New Hampshire as well) that do not currently have a kindergarten program in place.  The state will pay for 75 percent of the construction costs and will pay for 100 percent of the costs for portable classroom lease and setup for a period of three years.  $1.6 million is needed by Salem School District to implement the program, with a little over $900,000 of that money being subsidized by the state.

During the Budget Committee’s public hearing on January 8, many citizens turned out to be heard.  State Representative D.J. Bettencourt (R-Salem) was one.  He voiced the concerns he sees in Concord, knowing how those in Salem are affected by troubling economic times.  Bettencourt said, “This is not the time for this level of spending, and this budget must be scaled back.  Higher taxes will put a further strain on citizens of Salem.”  He cites the numbers he sees in Concord, reflecting that New Hampshire families have less and less disposable income.  Joe Hatch, another Salem resident, voiced his opinion to the Budget Committee saying that he is in favor of kindergarten, calling it a “necessary endeavor.”  Another resident, Laurel Redden, voiced to the committee that she did not want to see further staff positions being cut from the budget.  She would like to see smaller class sizes at Salem High School, and emphasized that cutting additional positions will leave positions cut that will never come back.  She also is for kindergarten and urged the committee to consider what a legacy would be left behind 20 to 30 years from now by implementing kindergarten and being able to say we had a Budget Committee, School Board, and state that cared about this issue.  Earl Merrow of Salem feels the town voters should have the chance to vote on whether kindergarten should be brought to Salem or, in this matter, mandated by the state.  “It seems to me this should be in an article.  This is a lot of money to vote on without an article,” said Merrow.

Salem Budget Committee member Stephen Campbell moved to remove the $1.6 million in funding from the school district’s proposed operating budget during the January 8 final vote that took place in the William Knightly Meeting Room at Salem Town Hall.  Campbell insists that the voters should have a chance to vote on the item as a separate warrant article and that it should not be included within the school district’s operating budget for 2009-2010.  He said, “The biggest problem I have is not giving the voters a choice.  After three years, how will they get 60 percent of the vote needed for funding permanent buildings?”

Committee member Jim Randazzo disagreed with Campbell and sided with the School Board, saying, “We shouldn’t be fighting the state on kindergarten.  It is a state mandate.”  Randazzo also emphasized that Salem has the second lowest cost per student of 14 surrounding communities.  “The school district is not wasting money,” Randazzo added.

Several Budget Committee members cite the mandating of public kindergarten by the state is in violation of Article 28-A of the New Hampshire Constitution because it is not fully funded by the state.  Vice chairman of the Budget Committee, Michael Carney, said, “I don’t think we should be spending this money.  Even if we vote no, they could force us.  I’m for kindergarten, but this is unconstitutional.”  The committee voted 5-4 to remove the $1.6 million from the budget designated for kindergarten.

Some committee members feel the Hudson School Board’s decision to fight the state on public kindergarten is right and just.  Some feel it will be interesting to see how this plays out.  And some think Hudson will win the lawsuit without issue, citing Salem should have joined them.  The School Board has maintained that losing $5 million in state adequacy funding is hardly worth the time and monies needed to sue the state.

In addition to cutting kindergarten funding, the Budget Committee voted to cut six additional teaching positions from Salem High School.  With Windham students leaving and six teachers retiring, the School Board had decided to not replace the positions left behind by the retiring teachers.  As it stands now, 12 teaching positions have been eliminated from the budget.

The School Board will have the chance to ask Salem voters to reinstate the removed items and put them back into the budget, which includes expenses for kindergarten, at Deliberative Session on Thursday, February 5.  The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be held at Salem High School’s auditorium.  Citizens in attendance provide the first vote on the Salem School District budget and warrant articles.

The School Board is also hosting a public forum on Wednesday, January 21 at 7 p.m. in the Salem High School television studio.  Budget concerns and questions from the public will be addressed.  Citizens are encouraged to attend to learn more about the proposed budget and what the voters’ involvement is in the process.

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