The University of Connecticut Fire Department celebrated the department’s retirees at its third annual luncheon on Sunday, Sept. 13.
Included in the celebration was Merrill Cummings, UConn’s first paid fire chief.
Cummings took on a lot of responsibility.
“I shouldered everything; fire department trainings, fire prevention, scheduling,” he said.
Cummings was an innovator and helped transform the department into what it is today.
“The firefighting service should be separate from the fire inspectors,” said Cummings. “Years ago I felt that’s the way it should be, and it is today.”
Speaking to Cummings, a loud announcement rang through the speakers. He said living on call isn’t for everyone.
“It’s got to be in your blood,” he said.
Cummings said there were many occasions where he had to drop what he was doing and rush to the firehouse for an emergency.
“I was married and had two children, a boy and a girl,” he said, “One day we were going to Vermont. We were out the door and I got a call saying, ‘Chief we need you.’ That happened a number of times.”
Cummings was a dedicated member of the department and contributed ideas that would change the department for years to come.
“I laid the foundation for what they have today,” said Cummings. “I’ve never looked it at that way before.”
The luncheon also included a bench dedication in memory of Chief Francis Williams and all fallen fighters.
Kathy Williams, Williams’ wife, said she was excited to attend the event.
“I think it’s great because they’re memorializing these guys in a way that’s going to be here for a while,” she said.
Chief Williams was in the department for close to 37 years and named chief in 2005.
Chief Williams was an innovator within the department and a major proponent of getting sprinkler systems installed in every dorm on campus.
“He was the first fire marshall on campus and was the first to get halogen torchiere floor lamps banned on campus,” said Kathy Williams.
According to Kathy Williams, halogen torchiere lamps were a fire hazard before the ban. She said that they would get so hot that a group of Yale students wrote a cookbook on foods you could make using the lamps as a heat source.
Chief Williams’ oldest son, Kevin Williams, said that other universities looked at his father with awe.
“He got calls from other universities asking him how he did what he did,” said Kevin Williams.
Above all, Chief Williams made it his mission to protect UConn’s students.
“My husband put the safety of the students first,” said Kathy Williams, “He thought of all of the students as his own.”
Katie Cavanaugh is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.