GREAT BARRINGTON — When it came time to plan his speech for retiring longtime firefighter Terry Chamberland, Great Barrington Fire Department Chief Charles Burger was at a bit of a loss.
"I would typically roast people in that setting, but I couldn't come up with too much. Talk about anybody around here, you can think of some hilarious story about how they messed something up one time, but I couldn't come up with anything for Terry," Burger said.
"If I had to use one word to describe him, it would be 'reliable.' "
The anecdote that stood out from the 18 years Burger has known Chamberland — he spent 44 years on the job — came on the very night of his retirement send-off.
The department had a small parade and celebration this summer, and the streets were lined with community members the deputy chief has spent most of his life serving.
"It was awesome," Chamberland said. "Really impressed with the amount of people that turned out for it."
According to Burger, there were hundreds of folks flooding in from Stockbridge Road down to National Grid.
"In my wildest imagination I didn't think there would be that many people," Burger said. "Obviously, he has a community that certainly supports him. He's been very active in the community, beyond the Fire Department."
Chamberland's 44 years have been marked by consistency and reliability. He is described as a behind-the-scenes kind of guy who took care of all the details that keep a fire department running smoothly day to day. Burger noted that he couldn't think of a training drill, call, fundraiser or department event that his senior fireman hadn't attended.
"Any time he said he'd do anything, it was as good as done," noted the chief, who finds himself with an immense hole to fill. "People are starting to realize right now that he took care of an awful lot of stuff that they thought just happened by magic around here."
Chamberland, who grew up locally, started on the job when he was about 21 years old, saying he wanted to get involved in helping the community.
Over 44 years, he has seen a lot and overseen even more change in the department. He notes the Melvin's Prescription Pharmacy fire of 1978, the block fire at Jack's Country Squire and the notable 1995 tornado as flashbulb moments for a career spent focused on the details.
"Mostly, the technology and equipment," Chamberland noted of changes he has witnessed. "When I started, we were riding in open-cab trucks, hanging on the back. Way back when, you had a pair of rubber boots, rubber coat and rubber gloves; didn't think too much of it. Now, the technology and safety aspects of the equipment are so crucial."
Those advancements go hand in hand with putting in the time and work to be a successful firefighter. That's the legacy Chamberland leaves behind in Great Barrington.
"To pay attention, listen, show up and practice," he has preached to the younger crew members. "Always been a believer of 'You play how you practice.' So, you practice hard, and when it comes to go-time, you're going to get the job done."
Mike Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.