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LaFond to end public service career

Date: 5/19/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- For Holyoke Police Chief David LaFond, "it's time to move on to pursue personal interests."

The Holyoke native who has spent since 1979 serving the city in the Fire Department recently notified Mayor Michael Sullivan of his intention to leave the position on Jan. 4, 2010.

"Chief LaFond is an example of what is right in public service. He had distinguished himself at the local, state and national level for his commitment and understanding of public safety," Sullivan stated. "I admire his leadership, his fairness and courage to face challenges, whether they be on the scene or behind the scenes. He does what is right and just. He will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace."

Under LaFond, there has been a new Fire Department headquarters built as well as a new station on Whiting Farms Road. Plans have been started to replace the Northampton Street station. LaFond has also rebuilt most of the department's fleet of apparatus.

LaFond told Reminder Publications that even without the current economic conditions, "the challenges will always be there for the next chief."

He noted that during his long career the Holyoke Department has had to endure periodic budget cuts. He noted the department had challenges in 1981 with Proposition 2 1/2 and the recession in 1991.

"Cutbacks are part of the job," LaFond noted. "[You] have to weather any kind of economic storm."

LaFond said there have been "incredible changes, absolutely incredible" in technology during his time in the department.

He noted water is still the basic weapon to fight fires and the ability to move has changed dramatically.

Hose and nozzle technology has allowed firefighters to deliver more water faster onto a blaze. He said that when he started hoses were two and a half inches wide and could deliver 250 gallons a minute. Now they are five inches wide and 1,500 gallons can flow through them in a minute. New nozzles have also allowed greater volumes of water to flow.

The results, he said, have been "dramatic property conservation."

Firefighters have greater personal protection today than when he started in the 1970s. Back then all that separated a firefighter from harm was a rubber coat, hip boots and a metal helmet. There was one breathing apparatus on each truck, not for each firefighter, he added.

Now firefighters have "full protection," he said.

The advancements in protection have cut down on smoke inhalation injuries and allow firefighters to go deeper into buildings.

LaFond noted that type of buildings in Holyoke, from mill buildings to Victorian era houses, have proven to be an asset to the department's skills.

"We are very good at our trade because of the housing stock, because of the mills," he said.

LaFond said of the department he has led, "I think we're in good shape."

Sullivan will be working with the Fire Commission and the City Council to develop a search for LaFond's successor.