As of June 1, Larry Chapel will no longer be a firefighter for the Troy Volunteer Fire Department. After 28 years as chief and 32 on the department, that will be a big adjustment both for the man himself and the men who look up to him.
While Chapel will be missed on scenes, the other firefighters all gave the same response when asked what would change about the department with Chapel’s retirement: nothing, if they can help it.
Chief Dustin “Dusty” Welch has been on the department since 2004, and spent the last three years as the second assistant chief. Still, he said he feels the weight of the responsibility that now falls on his shoulders.
The chief is responsible not just for the functioning of the department and the work at a scene, but for every firefighter and making sure they make it home to their own families. Welch reflected soberly on the weight of that responsibility, and on living up to the example Chapel has set.
“He’s been chief forever, so it’s tough to answer to anybody else — for all of us,” Welch said.
Mike Pattie, who has been with the department since 2000, said that Chapel always made sure his firefighters were safe.
“Every extrication call, it was like you had your guardian angel on your shoulder,” Pattie said. “I don’t know how many times that I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned to look, and Larry’s standing right there with me.”
Roger Gilligan with Troy Volunteer ambulance said he has worked with Chapel for 18 years on a variety of scenes, and has never been disappointed with the leadership Chapel demonstrated.
“He’s probably one of the most competent people I’ve ever worked with,” Gilligan said. “He is excellent at fire rescue. I don’t know how they’re ever going to replace him.”
Gilligan extended his confidence and gratitude to the entire fire department, reflecting on the extrication scenes they have all worked together, saving victims trapped after a car accident.
“They always ask, What do you need? What can we do for you?’” he said. “I know that Larry and his crew are going to protect me and take care of me when I’m working in a car — or in a fire, or any other place where we work together.”
Marv Schweitzer has been on the department for 42 years, long enough to remember Chapel when he was new to firefighting.
“He was very interested and paid attention — big and strong, I remember that,” Schweitzer said.
But how did Chapel distinguish himself so well as to be made chief after only four years as a firefighter, let alone to be re-elected for 28 years running?
The other firefighters trusted Chapel enough to ask him to become chief in the first place, and Chapel stepped into the position and stepped up to the responsibilities, Schweitzer said.
“He treated everybody equal, took care of everybody,” Schweitzer said.
And Chapel didn’t just take care of their personal safety, he said. He was seeing to them in the aftermath as well, which is especially important in a small community where the victims are often someone they personally know.
“You don’t want those people to have that bothering them in their regular life,” Schweitzer said.
Pattie said he has had Chapel help him through the aftermath of more than one accident scene.
“Larry has a way of dealing with people. He could diffuse any situation that I’ve ever seen,” Pattie said. “He just has a way with people. He could make people at ease.”
The firefighters look to one another as family, and Chapel both talked about that value and lived it, Pattie said.
Chapel’s sense of connection extended to the community as well, Pattie said.
“He’s always been a big inspiration because of his compassion he has for the people we’re helping,” Pattie said. “His dedication and compassion is unsurpassed. It keeps the place together.”
His example has made the other members of the department want to “drive a little harder” in performing their duties, Pattie said.
“And I think that will carry on for generations. Every one of my boys wants to be a fireman, and it all started from Larry,” he said.
Chapel remained a man of few words, hesitating to talk very much about himself. He said he would prefer any attention go to the department as a whole.
“Anybody who will get up at 4 a.m. to go out and help somebody else, that’s a good person,” Chapel said.
He credits the chief who preceded him, Max Schrader, as a mentor and a teacher he looked up to, and the others who taught him as a new firefighter.
Yet, Chapel also said he doesn’t think anyone should receive too much praise for being a firefighter.
In his own service to the community, Chapel doesn’t see something remarkable, but rather a simple example of what anyone who lives in a community should be doing.
The community needs a fire department, and people should be ready to give back to their community in that way, he said.
The other firefighters echoed the sentiment of “giving back” to the community by being on the department.
“He’s ingrained that into, I think, everybody that’s been a part of it,” Pattie said.