THERE HAS BEEN a lot of recent movement in the upper ranks for the Manchester Fire Department, including the departure of Fire Chief Dan Goonan.
Whenever that happens, a reshuffling takes place as people move up in rank. That means that several city firehouses saw new captains this year.
Captains run the firehouses. They work out schedules, make sure equipment and the building are maintained. And they address what may be the most far-reaching and sensitive issue of their tenure — the fire company patch.
Every MFD station has its own patch, and at least one has expanded into a mascot.
The emblem attempts to capture the setting, the psyche, the spirit of the firehouse, and the focus ranges from muscle-bound flamingos to cigar-chomping skulls.
Some patches have endured for decades.
Others are new this year, the work of a new captain, who either by whim or consensus initiates a new aura for the firehouse.
For example, Mike Rheault took over the South Willow Street firehouse earlier this year and bounced a patch of about seven years. It featured Snoopy riding on his doghouse/World War I fighter plane, a nod to the nearby Manchester airport.
“It wasn’t working” said firefighter Dave Sinotte. “Everyone else had dragons, and we had Snoopy.”
Then there is the stern-faced frog, accented by American and Canadian flags, which stares from the patch of the Amory Street fire station, along with the slogan “Serving the Wild West Side.”
Capt. Ken Nelson, who took over last month, has no plans to replace it, despite the subtle slur on the historic French-Canadian heritage of much of the West Side.
The frog has been on a company patch for the 20-plus years he has been on the Fire Department, he said.
“I’m an Irishman, and I just got here a month ago,” Nelson said.
District Fire Chief Max Chiasson stressed that the patches, whether designed in house or by an outside artist, are funded by the firefighters themselves.
“This is all company pride,” he said.
Here’s a rundown on the more colorful patches:
Station 3, South Willow Street. The Snoopy patch replaced the “Pride of the South” patch which had been around for decades but was viewed as pro-Confederacy.
The new patch features a gloved red-eyed, muscle-bound fisher cat shouldering a fire ax.
“What is Manchester? We got the Fisher Cats,” said Lt. Tom Defino. Firefighters in other departments scratch their head and question if that looks like a fisher cat. But in all honesty, who has ever seen a fisher cat and lived?
Station 9, Calef Road. The station is located across Calef Road from Pine Grove Cemetery, and the new patch plays up on the location. Only two companies have skulls; when Peter Burkush was fire chief, he ordered that patches lose any references to skulls or death.
The skull wears a fire helmet with a number 9. Two gravestones are on the patch, one with the badge number of Mason Murphy, a rookie firefighter assigned to the house who died of a seizure.
“It lets somebody know there’s something unique about this firehouse,” said Lt. Chris Grover.
Station 7, Somerville Street. The bulldog on the station patch dates back to the World War II era when Mack Truck, whose symbol is a bulldog, danced around wartime rationing and got the station a fire truck, firefighters at the station say.
The current patch features a snarling bulldog with his paw atop a broken fire hydrant. There’s a puddle next to the hydrant which might be water, but everyone knows what fire hydrants mean to dogs.
“It’s open to interpretation, said Capt. Ken Proulx. He’d never change the patch. As a young firefighter, he had a bulldog tattooed on his arm.
Station 5, Webster Street. The station’s patch includes a Gotham cityscape and the Batman symbol, which lights up the fire station tower at night.
The tower of the original 1886 firehouse was plagued by bats until it was rebuilt in the early 1990s.
Station 10. Mammoth Road. This station can boast full-fledged, physical mascots — the pink flamingo lawn ornaments at the front of their station.
“People drive by, they expect to see a flamingo now,” said Capt. David Jay, another newly named captain with no inclination to change the flamingo, which has taken on legendary status.
A former captain with a penchant for lawn care detested the kitschy ornaments. A few firefighters put them around the station, and the popularity of pink flamingos grew along with his ire.
Flamingos have been on and off patches since. A recent one featured the actual lawn ornament and putting green, given the adjacent Derryfield Country Club. But the most recent remake features a bulked-up flamingo.
Rescue 1. Central Fire Station. The Central station features three companies, each with its own patch. Rescue 1, a citywide company that was the initial hazardous-materials company, embodies a dragon on its patch.
That is the symbol of the Army Chemical Corps, which defends against chemical, biological or other mass-destruction attacks.
Engine 11. Central Fire Station. When Engine 11 was created in 1910, it was the first engine company with a motorized vehicle, hence its name the Flying Squadron.
Its patch includes a determined eagle flying over flames.
Station 4. Hackett Hill Road. Opened in 2013, the brick-exterior, spacious fire station at Hackett Hill is the city’s newest. But for years, the station comprised a double-wide trailer that housed a couple of firefighters who kept a garden. Hence, the Hackett Hillbillies.
A couple of tomato plants grow there today.
“The whole persona was hillbillies; I don’t know if you can say that (word) nowadays,” said District Fire Chief Max Chiasson.
Station 8. Cohas Brook Station. The patch features a skull with an Eight ball and the station’s name, Crazy Eights.