Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon Fire Chief Kelly to retire July 1

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
March 12, 2007

VERNON - After more than four decades battling blazes in town, Fire Chief Robert Kelly announced his retirement Saturday at the annual Fireman's banquet.

Kelly, who celebrated his 72nd birthday in February, has been with the department 40 years - the last 20 serving as chief.

His last day with the department will be July 1.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today she has mixed feelings about losing Kelly

"Part of me wants him to stay forever and another wishes him well in his retirement," she said, adding, "I'm sure he'll still continue to be a valuable resource to the town."

Kelly says it's time to turn the job over to a younger person, but that he'll remain finance officer for Tolland County Mutual Aid, a part-time position that keeps him busy most mornings. Afternoons will now be free, though, and his plans call for heading out to the lake, he said.

"I have a boat sitting in the backyard and a very young crew that loves to go," Kelly said with a chuckle. His crew - all grandchildren - love to water-ski off the back of the 19-foot powerboat, he said.

"And who knows, maybe I'll get a fishing license and drown some nightcrawlers, or complete some honey-do projects for my wife, Marilla," he said with a laugh.

Kelly joined the volunteer department in 1966, when he was 31.

But for as long as he can remember, he loved chasing fires, starting as a young boy growing up in Glastonbury.

When he moved to Vernon in 1961, Kelly said, he would hear the horn sound and immediately head out to watch the action.

Back then, you could tell the neighborhood where the fire was located simply by the sound of the horn blast, he said.

Kelly said he would spot Capt. Tommy Hewitt, who didn't own a car at the time, running toward each fire.

"I'd stop and pick him up and drive him to the scene, and he got me signed up," Kelly said of his old captain.

Through the years a lot has changed - equipment in particular, Kelly said.

The Jaws of Life, communications improvements with radios and pagers, and better air-packs: "We didn't have any of those when I joined," he said.

Marmer said that under Kelly's tenure the Fire Department was updated to the 21st century.

Pensions for volunteers, training, and new emergency vehicles were all major initiatives he ushered in, she said, adding that Vernon was one of the first towns in the state to use thermal imaging cameras.

Kelly also has contributed a personal legacy to the town with his daughter Diane Carpenter, a member of the Fire Department for the last 20 years, and a son, Sgt. John Kelly, who serves with the Vernon Police Department.

"I've known him for many years - longer than the 20 he's been chief, and he is a valued and most honored man in the department," Marmer said. "He served this town in an exemplary fashion."

Marmer said she hopes to present a replacement for the Town Council's consent at the April 17 meeting.

That would give the new chief time to work with Kelly before his final day, she said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007