2017-07-06 / Around Town

Chief Retires After 30 Years with Newport Fire

By Olga Enger

Newport Fire Chief Peter Connerton was hired 1988 and appointed chief in 2011. His last day is July 14. 
(Photo by Olga Enger) Newport Fire Chief Peter Connerton was hired 1988 and appointed chief in 2011. His last day is July 14. (Photo by Olga Enger) After an almost 30-year career with the Newport Fire Department, Chief Peter Connerton is turning in his badge.

For the outgoing chief, fire service has been more than a career; it was his calling.

“Almost every single day, I truly, truly enjoy coming to work. Because in some way, shape, or form, you are always helping somebody in this job,” said Connerton. “It’s great to be in a position to do that. From start to finish, I’ve loved it.”

However, wearing the chief hat does not leave much room for life outside of fire service, he said.

“While I’ve loved the job, and still love this job, you are on call 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Connerton. “I’m answering emails while I’m on vacation, whether it’s to the city council, city manager, or to someone else. It’s a very involved position. It really is. I’m not complaining. I got it, and I really enjoyed it. But I’ll be glad when I don’t have to check emails.”

The chief's last day will be July 14. Although that is the same end date of retirement for outgoing Middletown Fire Chief Ronald Doire, Connerton said it is simply a coincidence.

“He just beat me to it,” the chief said, laughing. “I officially told the city on June 2, but I had discussed this with the city manager before that time. You just know when it’s your time.”

Connerton commented on the challenges of serving in his hometown.

“Your heart drops when you get certain calls. Early on in my career, I responded to a cardiac situation, and it was my father. I started the IV on him. You try to treat it like any other call, but it can be difficult,” said the chief. His father, who will be 87 this summer, is alive and well. “I don’t think you can attribute that to me,” he said, smiling.

The chief recalled responding to a fatal accident, and that as they approached the scene, he was taken aback because the victim resembled his son. “He was wearing the same shirt, had the same hair and the car looked similar to one his friend drove. The worst part of the job is seeing death. But it’s part of the job. I grew up in this community, so any call can easily involve someone I know,” the chief said. “That makes it difficult.”

During his first weeks of freedom, Connerton plans on spending time at home.

“I have a really long honey-do list, so I’ll work on some home projects. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family. Eventually, I’d like to get back into light construction, which is what I used to do. I’m going to have to do something. My wife isn’t going to allow me to have that much free time,” he said, laughing.

Deputy Fire Chief Brian Dugan will serve as the interim chief, until the position is filled by city council.

For an incoming fire chief, Connerton’s advice is to “keep an open mind."

“Try to view things from other perspectives. Also, you really have to be willing to put the time in to do the job,” said Connerton. “The fire chief’s role is to give others the information they need, whether it’s the city manager, city councilors or department heads. Whether it’s about something on the docket, services provided, or something else. Sometimes you have to give a response before you know all the answers. Just be forthcoming; that’s what I tried to do.”

The person to fill his shoes will lead a group of firefighters with a strong commitment to the fire service, said the chief.

“The members of the Newport Fire Department really go above and beyond. On their days off, so many attend training, which is uncompensated time. Their commitment to the job is outstanding,” he said.

Connerton credited his successes to the help he’s had from other department heads.

“We really are one team. We are one island. For most of my career, we were kind of in our own ecosystem, which is how it should be. But my eyes were really opened in this position, how other city employees help out the department every day. Like securing the funds for the new fire boat. That was an example of how everyone worked together to make the department better, for a long time to come.”

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