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Many pay tribute in words to late fire chief

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Posted on January 7, 2010 |
By Andy Kirkaldy



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A COLOR GUARD leads a procession of firefighters and other mourners away from St. Peter’s Church in Vergennes Wednesday morning after the memorial service for former Fire Chief Ralph Jackman. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

VERGENNES — Many who knew longtime Vergennes Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ralph J. Jackman were moved to speak about his character, contributions and legacy after Jackman’s death at the age of 85 on Saturday. Still others were overcome by emotion and could not bring themselves to talk in the immediate aftermath of the loss.

Jackman, a U.S. Army veteran who saw action in World War II, had served the fire department for 62 years, 55 as its chief, before resigning Nov. 1.

Among those who paid tribute were:

GOV. JIM DOUGLAS:
“Ralph will be missed. He was a good friend, community leader and dedicated public servant. He inspired a sense of service among his family and those who knew him as he worked to better the lives of his fellow Vermonters.”

DOUGLAS CLINE, INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF FIRE SERVICE:
“Chief Jackman was a chief to many more people than just the Vergennes firefighters ... He always cared about everyone, giving tirelessly to others, serving the every need someone had and expecting nothing in return ... His mere presence made everyone strive to a new level of excellence, give that extra 10 percent you didn’t know you had just by walking into the room. He was a man who could inspire you by his quick smile and wit. He was progressive, seeking new, improved and safer ways to do business. He believed in education and training ... He shared everything ounce of knowledge he had.”

VERGENNES MAYOR AND FIRE DEPARTMENT OFFICER MICHAEL DANIELS:
“I’m very emotional about this whole thing. He has been my chief for 40 years. I learned to respect the man very much, and he has really taught us a lot, and his legacy will live on ... I had the great opportunity to present him the key to the city on Wednesday night, and one of the things we had on it ... is our fire department motto, ‘Loyal to Duty.’ And I added to that, ‘Loyal to Our Community.’”

MIDDLEBURY FIRE CHIEF RICK COLE:
“He was always there to help and always willing to help us out ... He had a lot of impact statewide. He was always involved in the state firefighters’ association, always involved with committees. I don’t know if he ever missed a meeting ... He was always very interested in the fire service, in having the fire service improved. Even in the past year he was still gong to meetings. He was always very active ... It will seem strange not to see him at meetings or at training sessions. He was always there to encourage people and to make sure things ran well. He was always there with a handshake and willing to talk with you. He was always friendly.”

VERGENNES DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF JIM LARROW:
“He was a great father figure and leader to me, and he showed me how to respect people and showed me how to get the job done and do it in a great way ... He’s a father to everyone in that station. He was our chief right up until the end ... He was such a father and firefighter and Rotary person and Meals on Wheels person. It’s just amazing the stories I’ve heard in the last four or five days.”

ALDERMAN DAVID AUSTIN:
“I know of some things he had done for people very quietly ... Probably everyone in the community that knew him had a story like that. Probably the magnitude of the good work that he has done will never be fully known. When he saw a need, he quietly saw it was met.”

BRISTOL FIRE CHIEF MARK BOUVIER:
“Ralph never saw himself as too old to learn, and expected the same from his department. And without question, that was one of the most important messages this man taught us ... I have no doubt in my mind that this state, county, and, most of all, this city he called home for so many years, will long remember the contributions, the generosity, the gift of time and energy he so selflessly gave time and time again for the betterment of all.”

FORMER FERRISBURGH FIRE CHIEF BOB JENKINS:
“Anybody he touched, his heart was always there ... He treated the poorest person the same way he treated the richest person ... Everything he did was for the community. He wasn’t a selfish man ... He was so proud of the fire service, and a great leader of the Vermont firefighters ... I just can’t say enough good things about him ... Even in business: Nobody ever went cold when he was in the fuel business. How can you not admire a human being like that. He set the bar, and you tried to keep up with him, but it was difficult.”

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