North Branford Patch: How did you come to be North Branford's Fire Chief?
Chief William Seward: In 2005, the town advertised for a new fire chief because the previous one had retired and they were filling the position with an interim chief. At the time, I was still employed by City of New Haven as the commanding officer of the training academy. Seeing as I had lived in North Branford for a number of years, I thought I could branch off my expertise and make a positive change for the Town North Branford.
North Branford Patch: Your job is pretty tough for many reasons. What has been the most challenging aspect for you over the years?
Seward: Probably the most challenging part is being able to operate a fire department with a budget that doesn’t reflect the funding necessary to accomplish its mission.
North Branford Patch: What is a day in the life of William Seward like?
Seward: I usually wake up, check emails, texts and incidents that happened overnight. I check local news, basically follow up on any important emails. I’m in the office by 9 after stopping at Town Hall. I do invoices, bills, manage any requests. Sometimes there’s incidents I will respond to at all hours.
North Branford Patch: Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Seward: When I graduated from high school, my future was in the fire department. Right out of high school I became an EMT, then became a paramedic. I graduated from the University of New Haven with a bachelors in fire administration. I was hired as part of the New Haven Fire Department in 1978 and retired from there in 2008.
North Branford Patch: What is the most rewarding part of the job?
Seward: When you think about what the volunteers do for no money and then you compare it to firefighters that are career who get paid for doing the same thing, it's really amazing. It’s nice to see these men and women having the same level of competency that career members do for minimal reward. The North Branford Fire Department is one of the premier departments in the state I think. We responded to 1,955 incidents last year. We have excellent response times, these are highly professional and trained people; honestly, they do a fabulous job. It's nice for a chief not to have to worry about getting a good turnout when that alarm goes off. They’ve got great skills and great relationships with the community.
North Branford Patch: Every town is different–how is it being a firefighter in North Branford?
Seward: I feel pretty lucky that the previous chief was able, with the cooperation of town administration, to provide our members with good apparatus that we maintain. They’re in tip-top shape. We do spend quite a bit annually on maintenance, we're talking at a minimum more than a million for an aerial ladder. Being able to have good cooperation with local administration is really key to a good operation, but even more so, the taxpayers need to recognize what a fire department does and needs to do this job. The general public really can’t fathom what is required to run a fire department in 2012. It's not the good ol’ boys club, hanging out drinking beer and eating hot dogs around a fire until the next call. We need to meet the same minimum standards of a career firefighter department. Those are national standards.
North Branford Patch: Is North Branford as safe as it could be? Is there anything you'd do differently here in town?
Seward: Communities have what they call a fire protection rating by ISO. We have rating classified as 4/9, which all has to do with water supply, dispatching and other criteria. The downside in North Branford is 40 percent of communities don’t have water supply so one of the challenges is, in an incident where there are no hydrants, being able to provide adequate water.
North Branford Patch: Do you prefer being Fire Chief over being a regular firefighter?
Seward: In a large community, once you make chief, you don’t get to do those things that the rank and file do. You're in administration. In a smaller department, though, the chief may be the first firefighter on the scene. You may be taking the hose into the seat of the fire. To stay in shape, I play ice hockey, I referee hockey for youth, high school, prep school and college. I'm also in a band–I play the bagpipes.
North Branford Patch: If there is any time left, what do you do when you're not on duty?
Seward: You’ll probably find me at the hockey rinks. I spend so much time there, not just locally, but all over the state and in Massachusetts.