Chief worked his way up the ladder

When disaster strikes and you’re confronted with a house fire or a medical emergency, it’s comforting to know that the person in charge of your rescue is not only a seasoned professional, but a friend and neighbor, as well.

Town resident and Fire Chief Scott Wiggin has worked his way up the ladder of the Bedford Fire Department, holding just about every position in the department over his four-decade career.

While juggling his myriad responsibilities as fire chief, Wiggin took some time to answer our questions about the changes he has seen in the department during his tenure, how many fires they respond to each year and how they decide who gets to drive the fire truck.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Q: How long have you served as chief of the Bedford Fire Department?

A: Ten years as fire chief.

Q: Have you served in any other positions in the fire department?

A: Full-time fire captain, call deputy chief, call lieutenant and call firefighter, for a total of 42 years of service with the Bedford Fire Department.

Q: What are your responsibilities as fire chief?

A: As a fire chief, you are a co-emergency manager, department head, administrator, manager, engineer and accountant. I am responsible for fire suppression, emergency medical services, hazardous material responses, technical rescues, fire inspections, fire prevention activities and working as the co-emergency manager for natural and man-made disasters.

Q: What kinds of changes have you seen in the fire department and in firefighting in general over the years?

A: When I first started in 1970, we did mostly fire suppression activates with a little bit of first aid. Now, the majority of our call volume is EMS. EMS has advanced to such a technical level that we currently have, on average, three paramedics on every shift.

The skills and training these individuals bring to the scene is remarkable. It’s like bringing the emergency room to the scene. Firefighting also has changed dramatically, with more emphasis on firefighter safety and accountability, and with higher levels of personal protective equipment, and the great ability to withstand flashover and higher levels of heat exposure.

Q: What’s the most memorable fire you’ve dealt with in your career so far?

A: There are probably several that stand out. The Bedford Grove fire, Sheraton Wayfarer fire and the 160 South River fire were probably some of the larger events.

Q: How is the fire department involved in the community?

A: We try to be pretty high-profile, being out in the community doing inspections, attending public events, fire prevention activities at schools and open house events at the Safety Complex.

Q: How is the fire department structured?

A: Full-time positions consist of a fire chief, deputy chief, captain, fire inspector, four lieutenants and 21 firefighters. The call department consists of two lieutenants and four firefighters.

Q: How many years of service does the average firefighter in the department have?

A: It probably ranges around 12 years.

Q: What services does the fire department offer that the public might not be aware of?

A: CPR training, infant car seat inspections, technical rescue training (water rescue, ice rescue, rescue from heights).

Q: About how many fires occur in Bedford each year?

A: Seven hundred forty-seven fire responses.

Q: What is the most common cause of fires in Bedford?

A: Cooking fires and heating appliances, which include woodstoves, and the operation of woodstoves are the main causes of structure fires, followed by electrical fires.

Q: Are there any fire prevention tips you’d like to share that the public tends to overlook?

A: It may sound old, but checking and maintaining smoke detectors and having operating fire extinguishers available, along with having two means of escape from every area of a house. Also, having a meeting place where everyone can be accounted for, and having street numbers posted so they can be easily identified.

Q: What training is required to become a firefighter?

A: Candidates must have a minimum of Firefighter II and EMT – Intermediate, a high school diploma or GED, and be 18 years of age.

They must pass an entrance exam, including a written general knowledge exam and a physical ability exam, and pass a pre-employment physical examination, a background check (no felony convictions) and an oral interview.

Q: Are firefighters required to have any additional training after their initial training?

A: Yes, they have to learn the equipment and apparatus, along with streets and water supply locations. Every day, you are learning something new.

Q: Is special training or licensing required to drive a fire truck?

A: Yes, Bedford requires a commercial driver’s license, along with air brakes and tanker endorsements.

Q: When an emergency call comes in, how do you decide who’s going to drive?

A: The one that can run the fastest! Just kidding. Every day, there are riding and driving assignments given for each person, so when a call comes in, whether it’s a fire or ambulance call, they have designated duties and riding positions.