Phil Kittredge went to the Westborough Fire Station this morning because “somewhere along the line, you get the bug.”
After Wednesday morning, when his final shift ends, Kittredge anticipates feeling “a little weird.”
Because his 43-year career with the Westborough Fire Department will be over.
Kittredge is retiring, four decades after joining the department as a volunteer call firefighter in his hometown.
“This was my next scheduled day to work. It’s just the way the schedule worked out,” the captain said today, noting he also worked Christmas Eve.
“I don’t think it’s as common anymore for somebody to work their entire career for one company. And even if they do end up working their whole career for one company, they may end up in different divisions or different buildings or different areas. I’ve been coming into this fire station, essentially, since 1971. It will be a little weird.”
The 1970 graduate of Westborough High School never envisioned during his childhood that he’d be a career firefighter.
“I was always into electronics. I always worked after school. I worked for the old JJ Appliance Co.,” Kittredge said.
Kittredge studied broadcast engineering at Grahm Junior College in Boston, where he repaired and carried equipment for the school’s TV and radio stations.
Then, he began catching the firefighting bug.
“There was a very large fire right down from my dorm. It was on Peterborough Street in Boston. There was a multi-fatality fire. Half a dozen people were killed. It was a big apartment building. And I just couldn’t believe these (firefighters) were running up – this was the early 70s. They didn’t have air packs. These guys were running up ladders and driving people down ladders, trying to revive them in the streets. I was there helping the radio reporter cover it for the radio station, and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Kittredge, who had been a Westborough call firefighter for about six months.
“About that time, I said, ‘This is what I want to do. These guys are really making a difference.’”
Kittredge said he then joined the American Red Cross Disaster Squad in Boston, assisting at fires.
He graduated from Grahm, joined the Westborough Fire Department as a part-time night firefighter during the early 1970s, and became a full-time member in early 1974.
“This is a great job. It really is,” said Kittredge, 60, who has been a captain for more than 20 years.
“One of the things about the fire service is people are usually glad to see us if there’s a problem. If somebody’s sick, we’re there to help them out. If a water pipe bursts in the cellar, where they have to shut off the water.”
Kittredge said he was the department’s fire scene photographer for 15 to 20 years.
“That meant photographing the bodies after a fire. That’s part of the job that wasn’t so great. It needed to be done. We had our own dark room here. I can remember a lot of the photographs that I’ve taken even 30 years ago, 35 years ago,” he said.
Kittredge also was Westborough’s first EMT.
“Shortly after that, Chief Walter Perron, the present fire chief’s father, he had the foresight to believe that the ambulance service should be run out of the fire department. When I first got on, the ambulance was kept down at the DPW garage. It was manned by, usually, special police officers,” Kittredge said.
“Chief Perron thought that there needed to be a better way.”
Growing up in Westborough meant that “you end up going on calls of either relatives or the people you’ve grown up with and known,” he said.
“I went to a fatal car accident right near my house with a girl that I went to school with, and it really bothered me quite a bit. One of the guys I work with, he went on an ambulance call and it was his father-in-law that had a fatal heart attack,” he said.
Firefighters have access to a critical stress team, and “it’s been used a few times, usually for a pretty traumatic incident,” Kittredge said.
“My primary job here as a captain is when I come into work in the morning, my primary job is to make sure that all of the firefighters that are working with me that day go home the next morning,” he said.
Westborough has grown considerably since Kittredge joined the department.
“When I first got on the fire department, we did, maybe 200 calls a year. Now we do approximately 300 calls a month,” he said.
Kittredge now hears the call of “a lot of projects that I want to do.”
He plans to do a presentation in March for the Westborough Historical Society, featuring his collection of glass negatives of photographs of the town.
“This is what they made the photographs from right around the turn of the century. I have about 500 of them. Some of them have not seen the light of day in probably 50 or 60 years. I’ve restored them all, and am in the process of digitizing them,” Kittredge said.
Kittredge also will continue as director of the Westborough Food Pantry. He is in his third year as director.
He expects retiring from the fire department will “be a big change.”
“As any wife of a firefighter would tell you, the worst part of the job is not coming home for supper (because) you got held over on a call. Or, there’s a fire when you’re getting ready to sit down for supper at home. My wife Donna will certainly not miss that,” Kittredge said.
“And you know what? I’m leaving things in very competent hands. I’m sure everybody likes to be proud of the people they work with. I work with an incredibly talented and technically competent group of people. Any one of them could take a situation and bring it to a successful conclusion.”