PLY Fire Chiefs

Plymouth Fire Chief Casino Clogston, right, is retiring at the end of the month, with Deputy Chief Tom Morrison, center, succeeding him. Captain Jeremy Bonan, left, will become the new deputy chief. (Tom Caldwell/The Laconia Daily Sun)

PLYMOUTH — Fire Chief Casino Clogston is retiring at the end of March, saying he is ready to move on. Deputy Chief Tom Morrison and Captain Jeremy Bonan say they are ready to move up.

An open house on Friday, March 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will honor Clogston for his 29 years as a full-time firefighter in Plymouth, but he said his involvement goes back much farther. Although the Plymouth Fire Department was incorporated on July 1, 1831, it was not until 1969 that it had its first full-time chief — Clogston’s grandfather.

“As a young boy, I’d walk to wherever the fire was to find him,” Clogston recalled.

When the Boy Scouts created a local chapter of its Fire Explorers program, Clogston joined at age 16, and he got onto the Plymouth force at age 18.

“I was promoted to call firefighter in 1989, and was hired full-time in 1990,” he said.

Morrison was hired the same day as Clogston — Sept. 1, 1990 — after working as a volunteer firefighter in Wentworth during the 1980s. He was promoted to shift lieutenant in 1991 and to deputy chief in 2001.

Morrision attended the firefighter training program in Laconia at what is now Lakes Region Community College. He went on to attend Plymouth State, and is currently seeking a master’s degree in Business Administration.

There is a close link between those called to serve as firefighters and those in law enforcement. Morrison’s father was a state trooper, as was Bonan’s.

Bonan said he joined the Explorers at age 15 while growing up in Gilford. He considered a police job, but took a position as a call firefighter on April 15, 2003, as a senior in high school.

He came to Plymouth as a call firefighter while attending Plymouth State University and took fire training classes during the summer. The Plymouth Fire Department hired Bonan full-time in 2008, and he was promoted to captain on Sept. 14, 2015.

Bonan’s Gilford years

While serving in Gilford, Bonan received a citation for outstanding operations as part of the team dealing with the Diamond Island boat accident on June 15, 2008, in which Stephanie Beaudoin of Meredith lost her life and Erica Blizzard of Laconia, operator of the boat, and Nicole Shinopules of Burlington, Massachusetts, were seriously injured.

Lt. Dominic DeCarli of the Gilford Fire Department described Bonan as “a very driven kid,” saying, “He knows what he wants and goes after it.”

Outside of work, Bonan is a hockey player who has competed in the annual Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Battle of the Badges for nine years, and continues to take part in the program. He also has an interest in motorcycles.

Morrison said the department has a good relationship with Plymouth State, with several of its call firefighters coming from the student ranks.

Changes

Departments everywhere are seeing an increasing call volume, with medical calls accounting for two-thirds of what they do.

Morrison said that, when he joined the Plymouth department, there were 1,000 calls a year, but last year’s logs showed 1,750 calls.

Plymouth is seeking a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant that would cover four new full-time firefighters, to help keep up with the demand.

Morrison noted that there are differences based on generational needs, as well.

“The younger firefighters want things to be more black-and-white, so we revamped our standard operating guidelines,” he said, leaving less to interpretation.

As fire equipment gets larger, the 50-year-old fire station has required some customization: fire engines with a shorter wheelbase so they fit inside, and they had to raise the overhead door to accommodate them.

Clogston said safety equipment is another area that has seen significant changes over the years. Air packs had just come out when he started his job, and firefighters used to wear long coats and long boots.

“Upgrades are always reactive,” he said, “but the town has been very supportive.”

Changes in home construction have brought new needs as well, Clogston said. For instance, the glue and synthetics in new homes cause them to burn hotter and more quickly, with pollutants firefighters need to be aware of.

Burnout

“Change is always good,” Clogston reflected. “I brought changes to this department, but after a certain amount of years, the changes stop, and you know when it’s time to move on.

“This job wears on you. Every day you see people at their worst, losing their homes or their health. You begin forgetting why you got in the business.”

Yet it has been a rewarding career.

“There’s a lot of good that we do,” Clogston said. “I enjoy going to calls where an elderly person needs help and is happy to see you. We’re here to help.”

He said that, with his oldest daughter now 13, he is anxious to spend time with his family and make up for all the holidays he could not be with them because of his job.

“Those four were the first to get put on the back burner during fire calls,” he said. “Now they’ll be front and center, where they should be.”

He continued, “It’s the right time. A lot of people hang onto their jobs for fear of losing their health care. The system has faltered to not let people move on.”

Morrison said there is a difference between what firefighters consider to be serious problems and what residents might consider serious.

“We have a different level of what’s an emergency because of what we’ve seen. We go to so many disaster scenes, and we’re trained to not lose it.”

He recalled some of the serious fires he has experienced, dating back to the Congregational Church fire in Plymouth in the 1980s and as recent as the Adrian’s Way fire in February that displaced residents in the Plymouth Terrace Apartments.

Yet he and Bonan are looking forward to their new roles and continuing to move the department forward.

Morrison said he wants to let the public know more about what the department does and the critical role it plays in the safety of the town.

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