Former Winnisquam Fire Chief Chester Brickett will be recognized with Medal of Valor
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A fire chief who also served as first president of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association will be honored on Sept. 25 with the Paul Sypek Medal of Valor after formal recognition of his death, more than six decades ago, as having occurred in the line of duty.
Winnisquam Fire Chief Chester Brickett died of a heart attack while returning from a fire call in Laconia on Jan. 14, 1954, but his death had never been recognized as occurring in the line of duty. It took the efforts of two current Mutual Aid members to provide the documentation needed for state Fire Marshal J. William Degnan to officially rule that Brickett’s was a line-of-duty death.
Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Chief Coordinator Jonathan Goldman, who also is a team leader with the Granite State Fire Service Support Team, came across Brickett’s name on a Facebook page managed by John Bolduc of Londonderry, “New England Fire Rescue History On This Date.” After seeing the post about Brickett’s death, Goldman confirmed that his name was not listed on the New Hampshire State Firefighters Memorial in Concord.
Lt. Kevin Nugent who, in addition to serving on the Mutual Aid Association, is a former Winnisquam fire chief, had come across Brickett’s name years earlier while reading historian Warren Huse’s “Our Yesterdays” column.
Nugent joined Goldman in searching internet websites, 1950s-era town reports, and handwritten Mutual Aid meeting minutes to determine the circumstances of Brickett’s death. They also interviewed family members to gain information about the man.
Their research had revealed that, while returning from the fire, Brickett was “stricken behind the wheel” and later died while being transported to the Laconia hospital.
“Richard Rusk was in the passenger seat and was able to apply the brakes and steer the vehicle safely to a stop,” Goldman said.
Brickett’s cause of death was ruled to be a heart attack. He was 51 years old at the time of his death.
They learned that Brickett had served as fire chief in the young fire department for six years. The Winnisquam Fire Department had been established in 1942 to serve the Winnisquam section of Tilton, Sanbornton and Belmont and was funded by annual payments from the three communities.
The Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association was established in March, 1953, and Brickett served as its first president, continuing until the time of his death.
Despite circumstantial evidence that Brickett was serving as chief at the time of his death, they could not find official documentation of the fact. Then Nugent came across a leather-bound book of hand-written meeting minutes from the Winnisquam Fire Department. Inside, he found a notation saying, “This page to be left blank in memory of our Chief, Chester Brickett. Passed away at the wheel of of the F.M.C. in the line of duty returning from the home of Herbert Ford, South Main Street, Laconia. Jan. 14, 1954.”
The leather book provided the proof they needed to secure the designation of a line-of-duty death for Brickett.
With the designation, Brickett’s name will be engraved on a panel of the N.H. Firefighter’s Memorial and the N.H. Fire Service Committee of Merit will honor him with the Paul Sypek Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be bestowed on any New Hampshire firefighter, during the organization’s annual awards ceremony in September.
“I believe he was one of the original firefighters with the Winnisquam department, and he may have been its second or third fire chief,” Nugent said.
The Winnisquam Fire Department merged with the Belmont Fire Department in August 2006.
Goldman said there are a couple of other names they are researching that also may qualify for official recognition in future years.
Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Association Chief Coordinator Jonathan Goldman, seated, and Lt. Kevin Nugent look through a leather-bound book of meeting minutes that includes a page honoring Winnisquam Fire Chief Chester Brickett who died in the line of duty on Jan. 14, 1954. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)
Pages of hand-written meeting minutes for the Winnisquam Fire Department have a page left blank to honor Chief Chester Brickett who died in the line of duty on Jan. 14, 1954. (Courtesy Photo)
- Written by Tom Caldwell
- Category: Local News
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