Powers ready to begin a new chapter – Former Winthrop Chief closes out 33 years in fire service

Saturday, September 19, 2009
By Cary Shuman

Joseph Larry Powers

Joseph Larry Powers

By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.

For the Transcript

Former Winthrop Fire Chief Joseph Larry Powers, who less than two years ago moved over to Logan Airport as chief of operations at Massport Fire Services, will call it a career at the end of September, closing one chapter in his life to begin a new one.

“I’ve been in fire services for 33 years, and I got to the point where I realized, I’m done,” said Powers explaining his decision to leave a job he has loved doing. “It’s just time to go and do something else. I can’t say that I’m tired of [firefighting], because that’s not it. It’s just that it’s time to go.”

Powers said he isn’t really sure what he will do in the next phase of his life; he doesn’t exactly know what the “something else” he should do is.

Certainly, anyone who has worked for so long at one job, especially one as physically draining and emotionally charged as firefighting is, can understand Powers’ need to find a new endeavor.

“Believe me, I know how lucky I’ve been,” said Powers. “I got to do a job I loved and made a living doing it for 33 years. I know that there are a lot of people that get up and go to work every day, who don’t love their job the way I loved mine. But firefighting is a young man’s game. It takes a toll on you. I will miss it, but I know this is the right time for me to go.”

Powers’ decision to enter the fire services was, perhaps, pre-ordained. His father and two uncles were all Boston firefighters, and he practically grew up in the Boston firehouses where they worked.

“I can remember that as a kid, my dad would take me to the East Boston fire house to get my haircut,” recalled Powers. “There was a lieutenant there, and I remember walking into the bathroom for my haircuts. It was this big white tiled bathroom, and in the middle of the room was one of those old-fashioned barber chairs, and the lieutenant would cut hair on the side to make some extra money. That’s where I got almost all of my haircuts as a kid.”

Powers said he became fascinated with firefighting during all of his trips to the fire houses in Boston and remembered that his father taught him how to count the old firebox calls as they came in when he was just a young boy, around 4 or 5 years old.

When he was old enough to join the fire service, Powers was hired in Winthrop.

“I believe that I was fortunate to work in a small town. You don’t get the big calls like you get in the cities, but it’s a closer feeling. You get to be a part of the community and get to know people,” said Powers. “Plus, a small department easily becomes family, because you spend so much time with your co-workers and team members. The only downside I could ever see to it was that you’d occasionally get called out to medical calls or car accidents, and because it was a small town, you were seeing people you know. That can be tough.”

Powers recalled the night (early morning actually) he got to deliver a baby into the world, and also the night some 14 years later, when he met the young woman he’d delivered all those years before. He said he has fond memories of the people he became friends with and all the people he was able to help over the years.

He also remembered the night a little over 14 years ago, when he got the call that he’d been chosen to be the new chief, taking over for Chief Robert Ford.

“I was in the middle of my shift as captain and team leader when I got the call, so I told the guys I had to run home to get something. I told my wife, we talked about it a bit and then she asked me if I was going to take the rest of my shift, and I said ‘No, I don’t think so.’ It was really important to me, that I finish my last shift with the guys.”

He also credited Chief Ford with talking him into applying for the chief’s position, a move he said he wouldn’t have made without the encouragement and support of the outgoing chief.

“This was a good career for me. I could’ve retired from fire service two years ago, but I loved it too much,” he explained. “I also loved the chance to work at Massport. It was a different kind of firefighting and it was a different kind of emergency planning, but it was a chance to work in a great organization, Massport Fire Service is actually recognized around the world for its innovation and for a good man, Chief Donahue [a Winthrop native and resident] who was great to work for. I really enjoyed my time at Massport, for the time I was there.”

Powers said he still loves helping people and he will always miss the camaraderie and thrill of actually working at a fire scene, but he is looking ahead to new challenges and new endeavors now.

One of those endeavors may be in the field of politics. Powers has submitted his papers to run for at-large town councilor in Winthrop.

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