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Canton mourns passing of retired Fire Chief Richard Hutchings

The greater Canton community is mourning the death of retired fire chief Richard Hutchings.


In a social media post, the organization for which he served for some 46 years noted the following.


"The Town of Canton Fire & EMS regrets to announce the passing of Retired Chief Richard Hutchings. Chief Hutchings was a dedicated member of the Fire & EMS Department for over forty-six years, beginning his service to the Town of Canton in 1977. In 1996 Hutchings was appointed as the first Chief of Department, of the newly formed Town of Canton Fire & EMS. As the first Chief of Department, he was instrumental in the initial strategy to modernize the Department. Over the years Hutch would step up in the Departments time of need in the rank of Chief of Department again, and other various command staff roles. Hutch had a strong passion for continued fire service education, and training throughout his years of service.

The Departments asks to keep Hutch, and his family in your prayers through this difficult time."



Below is our July 7, 2023 story on Hutchings.


Richard Hutchings filled virtually every role in his 46 years with the Canton Fire and EMS service.

 

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

 

CANTON – The fire and EMS service has pretty much always had an impact on Richard F. Hutchings.


His father, Richard E. Hutchings, was a charter member of the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department, which formed after the Collins Company shut its doors circa 1966.

And while he wasn’t allowed to ride the apparatus, the younger Richard Hutchings was allowed to drive with his dad to fire calls and remembers doing so by the time he was 15 or 16.


 His father’s rule “was very simple,” Hutchings noted. “’[If] you want to go to fires and such and learn this stuff - you gotta be in the car when I’m in the driver’s seat. If you’re not there, you’re not going.’ I got very good at getting dressed fast and listening to him come down the stairs.”


A few years later, on Jan. 17, 1977, Hutchings joined the department himself.


“It’s strange,” Hutchings said. “I think I turned 18 that day.”


Hutchings, who was fortunate enough to serve alongside his late father for a time, went on the serve in Canton for 46 years, only retiring earlier this year.


His 2023 retirement date was – naturally – Jan. 17.


“Hutch,” as many calls him, finally stepped down only due to some health and family issues, which included his mother Ruth’s declining health. She died in February.


Recently the town of Canton honored Hutchings’ decades of volunteerism with a service award, presented by the Board of Selectmen at a meeting in mid-June.


Deputy First Selectman Bill Volovski, who served alongside Hutchings in the fire service for 35 years, presented the award.


“Hutch has a long resume and a long list of accomplishments, but I’m going to focus on just one thing that I think made the greatest impression,” Volovski said. “Going back in history – before 1995 … we had three completely separate and independent fire departments in the town of Canton, with three chiefs, three boards of directors, three of everything… Even though we went to the same fire and emergency calls together it was by no means efficient and…. at some points, it was actually self-destructive.”


“A number of us over the years worked to try and effect a merger of the fire service so there was one chief, one way of doing things, one command structure for the fire service and when that happened in 1995, Rich Hutchings stepped forward to be our first chief. Rich’s 15 years or so that he spent as chief literally brought fire service, EMS service into the 21st century,” Volovski added.


The change is one of many Hutchings has seen over the years.


He was first interested in the activity when times were a little simpler – at least in some respects.


When he hung around the Collinsville department as a young man, Hutchings said, there were many other kids there as well. Organized activities were fewer then. Most of the kids he knew, boys especially, played just a handful of high school sports or joined the department.


“Every Monday night there would be kids like I was hanging around the fire house helping dad or hanging out with each other and that’s how I met half the guys I know because that’s what they did,” he said. “In Downtown Canton, there [was] not a lot of activity unless you played high school basketball, baseball or soccer. I didn’t play any of those sports, so the only option you had to be out in the community was the fire department, so it was just fun and easy and you felt you were doing something worthwhile. You were helping people.”


And training requirements were much different. When he joined, Hutchings said, then chief Ken Drs told him, “Go find a turnout coat, find some boots that fit you and a helmet that fits you and, if a call comes in, get on the truck.”


It was very shortly after joining the Collinsville department that Hutchings became involved in the Emergency Medical Services side of things. At the time, he said, Canton Memorial Ambulance was a separate service but had essentially become a division of the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department. On June 21, 1977 he graduated from a EMT class, as well as high school. At his parents’ insistence, he went, somewhat begrudgingly, to the Canton High School graduation.


Since Hutchings joined, training and safety requirements for the fire and EMS service have continually evolved.


Hutchings eventually attended Hartford County Fire School in Bloomfield and even over the course of a few months, change came. When he started the young trainees weren’t even wearing airpacks and he remembers a gruff instructor smoking a cigar in a smoky training facility.


But by the time he finished the class, which involved fewer hours than today’s training, airpacks had come online – although they were still only initially used in limited situations.

Throughout his life, the skills Hutchings has learned through the local service have helped him in his career and education. The reverse is also true and his list of certifications, degrees and experience is extensive. 


Hutchings held a few odd jobs after high school and had initially looked at a career with a fire department, but circa 1980, he landed a job with Bristol EMS.


Along the way he would eventually meet his future wife, Maureen, who also worked for Bristol EMS, and is now a nurse in the memory care field. The two were married in 1992.

By then time Hutchings landed that job, he had already obtained an associates in Biology from Tunxis Community College in the late 1970s and decided to study nursing. In May of 1985 he got his Associates Degree in nursing through Greater Hartford Community College.


Shortly after, he was hired at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, starting off part time and working both jobs for awhile before eventually going full time. He stayed at the hospital for 24 years. The hospital funded educational pursuits and Hutchings was able to obtain both a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration/Management and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Hartford. 


Later, Hutchings went to work for UConn Health and has been there since 2006. Today, he serves as one of the assistant nurse managers for the emergency department at UConn Health.


Hutchings has also served his country and in late 1990 joined U.S. Army Federal Reserve First Army New England, under great odds that he’d never be called to active duty.


But as the Gulf War buildup came with Operation Desert Shield, it turned into Operation Desert Storm with a bombing campaign in Iraq in early 1991. The date? Jan. 17. That day Hutchings was watching news coverage with his parents and shortly after the phone rang.

“The phone rings and my father said, ‘it’s for you’ and he had this look like this is not a good call,” Hutchings said.


In a short time, Hutchings ended up serving as a nurse in a station hospital in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain, rising to the rank of 1st lieutenant.


Despite that service, long hours on the job and in the classroom over the years, Hutchings continue to serve the local Fire and EMS service.


Early on, he was a captain of EMS. At the time, he said, that position was more administrative. But it was also a time of great change and training responsibilities were continually being upgraded. Additionally, he served at a time when the state finally allowed town departments to bill for their services. That also gave rise to private EMS staffing companies, which towns like Canton continue to rely on to supplement volunteers.


During those years, he also served on the ambulance, which in the early years went on as little as a couple of calls per week, he said. He, of course, was still a firefighter in addition to an EMT.


Later, Hutchings switched gears, serving more on the fire side and command side of the service and holding every command position – including lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and assistant chief.


As previously mentioned, he was the first to serve as a chief under a consolidated department. As the position came with a stipend, making him the first paid department chief. While it wasn’t continuous, Hutching said his service as chief adds up to approximately 14 years.


In recent times, Hutching also served many years as safety officer.


Of course, the life of a chief in modern times has come with challenges, Hutchings and others have worked hard to solve.  With intense training requirements, people’s busy lives and fewer local mills and factories at which many volunteers traditionally worked, small towns have consistently struggled to attract new volunteers and Canton, like many other towns, has had to supplement its ranks with limited staffing of paid firefighters and a contracted EMS service, particularly on weekdays.


Another change for which he pushed, Hutchings said, was elevating EMS command staff to hold “fire ground” authority, pushing those volunteers out of just administrative duties and giving them more responsibilities at scenes.


There were of course, numerous other logistical and other challenges, training requirements, evolving standards to track and so much more. In addition, some of the changes over the years, such as the combination of departments, were controversial in town.

But despite some challenges along the way, Hutching said he has always loved serving.

For one, it was always an area at which Hutchings felt he could learn and offer something of value.


 “I had a healthy respect for the fact that, yeah, you could die in there, but I relied heavily on the fact that I trusted my training and trusted my fellow firefighters that we would do our best to come back out,” he said.


And then of course there was always that comradery of the department, clearly evident in the dozens who came out for his recent Board of Selectmen award ceremony.

Hutchings noted that the town of Canton Fire and EMS has previously honored him, and he is grateful for that. He also said he wants to thank the town for the recent recognition.


“It was very nice to have them do that,” he said.



At a June 14, 2023 meeting, Canton Selectman Bill Volovski presents Richard Hutchings with a service award for 46 years in the Canton Fire and EMS Service. Volovski served alongside Hutchings for 35 years.

 

 

 

 

 

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