BEDFORD — The town fire department has been Fire Chief Scott Wiggin’s second home for nearly five decades.
Wiggin has been with the Bedford Fire Department since 1970. As he prepares to say farewell to his firefighting family, he said his time at the Bedford fire station will be greatly missed when he officially retires on Friday.
“I will definitely miss the guys and the calls,” he said.
His career, he said, “was more or less a calling.”
His grandfather, Ralph Wiggin Sr., was a charter member of the local fire department in 1922. His uncle, Ralph Wiggin Jr., also served in the department and held the chief’s position for about 20 years. His father, Fred Wiggin, was a former assistant fire chief in Bedford. And his two brothers also served as local firefighters.
“I kind of got the bug,” he joked this week while taking a break from packing up his belongings in his second-floor office at the Bedford Safety Complex.
When Wiggin was about 15 years old, he would tag along with his dad to emergency calls, or just hang out at the station with the crew.
There were many interrupted family dinners, he said, explaining his mother was concerned when nearly the entire family left dinner early to fight a structure fire.
He started as an on-call firefighter when the primary source of communication was the red phone operator network, and the majority of homes didn’t have street numbers, he said.
Wiggin eventually worked his way up the ladder until he was promoted to fire chief 18 years ago.
“I have seen a lot of changes over the years. Everything has changed,” said Wiggin, 67, who lives in Bedford and has watched the community grow in population and development.
What once operated solely as a volunteer fire department now has 33 full-time firefighters and about eight members for its on-call division.
Pagers have been replaced with cellphones, air-horns have been eliminated and the equipment has been upgraded with modern technology, according to the chief.
While there are significantly fewer structure fires now, the number of ambulance calls has dramatically increased, he said, noting that the number of assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior housing developments has increased since he first stepped into firefighting gear.
Perhaps one of the most memorable fires in Bedford was a massive barn fire on Perry Road in 2012 that ultimately killed 14 horses, said Wiggin, who recalled several fatal fires and automobile crashes.
“People deal with it in different ways. You can’t let it beat you up. Instead, you have to have faith in your skillset that you’ve done the best you can,” he said.
Wiggin says he won’t remain too quiet during his retirement.
“I am always doing something, whether it is repairing lawnmowers, chainsaws or other equipment,” said Wiggin, who admits he will probably come back to help maintain the department’s antique Sanford fire truck.
His retirement party has been planned for Aug. 1 at 5 p.m. at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford. Tickets are $25 each, and are available at bedfordfirenh.org.
The self-proclaimed prankster is already preparing for some payback from his firefighters at the event, but he says he is ready for the challenge.
Deputy Chief Scott Hunter will take over as the department’s chief at the end of the week. Hunter has been with the Bedford Fire Department for about seven years, serving the past two years as deputy.