The Acton Fire Department reports that Fire Chief Robert Hart, who joined the department as a call firefighter in 1985, will retire on June 24 from a 38-year career.
Chief Hart became a call firefighter in 1985, and was among eight men hired as a full-time firefighters on Aug. 8, 1988.
He was promoted to lieutenant in 2001, captain in 2007, deputy chief in 2012, and became chief of the department in 2016.
In his years as a firefighter and chief, Hart oversaw a vital modernization of the Acton Fire Department, with computers added to fire apparatus, schedules changed from a bulletin board to a computerized schedule, and records management transferred completely to computers, along with the department's policy manual, among other changes.
"We moved into the 21st century with a lot of our technology," said Hart.
The department also launched an Advanced Life Support ambulance service in 2017, improving the level of service from town ambulances from what was previously only Basic Life Support service.
Hart also prioritized protecting firefighters, and worked to increase education and the use of specialized equipment such as gear washers, extractors and dryers to help protect firefighters from cancer risks, while also procuring improved gear for firefighters to wear.
Hart said being chief taught him that people and personnel are the most important thing in any fire department, and he credits members of the department with doing the hard work that was required to modernize and upgrade the department's services.
"It's not like I did all that myself," Hart said. "It was accomplished with our personnel really working hard behind the scenes to make sure they were communicating with vendors and getting the most out of our new products. My hat is really off to the members of the department for embracing new technology and really working hard to make it the best it can be."
It was also people who made the job the most interesting and rewarding for Hart, who worked with other town departments and boards, as well as residents, in order to get a fourth fire station built in North Acton. He also noted the community and town hall's support for keeping firefighters well equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs.
"I've really enjoyed working with the community," Hart said. "We could not have built a fourth fire station in North Acton without community support, which was overwhelming and awe inspiring. The willingness of this community to support it's fire department is huge. It's been wonderful to work with the fire department family, but also to work with the town hall family."
Chief Hart followed in his father's footsteps when he became a firefighter, and said it was his father's experience and working a carpentry job for another firefighter that first got him interested in joining the fire service.
Hart said firefighting changed over his years on the job. Equipment improved to enable firefighters to get further into buildings and hotter and more dangerous conditions, but fires changed as well as building furnishings are more commonly made with plastic products, which burn faster and hotter than the wool and wood and cotton that furnishings used to be made of.
"Fires get hotter a lot quicker now, which poses a higher risk for firefighters," Hart said. "Understanding how building products and furnishings change is important for a firefighter, as is fire education and working with the academy to make sure personnel are well-trained."
Asked for advice for younger firefighters and up and coming officers, Hart said that while it's important to keep up with technology and to make sure firefighters are always equipped with what they need to do their jobs, he recommends keeping focus on the personnel within a department.
"Your people are what makes this wheel go around," said Chief Hart. "They are, by far, the most important piece of the fire department puzzle."
"I'm honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to be this community's fire chief," said Chief Hart. "This department and town treated me very well over the years, and I'm really humbled to say thank you. I wish everyone much success, and I am able to retire without worrying about the future of the department because there are a lot of good people here to carry on."