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Clogston retiring as Plymouth Fire Chief

Plymouth Fire Chief Casino Clogston, right, is retiring at the end of the month, with Deputy Chief Tom Morrison, center, succeeding him. Captain Jeremy Bonan, left, will become the new deputy chief. (Photo by Tom Caldwell) (click for larger version)
March 27, 2019
PLYMOUTH — An open house on Friday, March 29, will honor Fire Chief Casino Clogston for his 29 years as a full-time firefighter in Plymouth. When he retires at the end of the month, Deputy Chief Tom Morrison will take over, becoming the fourth fire chief since Plymouth Fire-Rescue made it a full-time position 50 years ago.

The first full-time chief? It was Clogston's grandfather.

"As a young boy, I'd walk to wherever the fire was to find him," Clogston recalled.

To fill the vacancy created by Morrison's promotion, Captain Jeremy Bonan will move up to the deputy chief's position.

Friday's special open house at the fire station on Highland Street will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The right time

Clogston said the time is right for him to step down. His daughter is now 13, and he is anxious to spend more time with his family and make up for all the holidays he could not be with them because of his job.

"Those four [my family] were the first to get put on the back burner during fire calls," he said. "Now they'll be front and center, where they should be."

He continued, "A lot of people hang onto their jobs for fear of losing their health care. The system has faltered to not let people move on."

"Change is always good," Clogston said. "I brought changes to this department, but after a certain amount of years, the changes stop, and you know when it's time to move on.

"This job wears on you. Every day you see people at their worst, losing their homes or their health. You begin forgetting why you got in the business."

Yet it has been a rewarding career.

"There's a lot of good that we do," Clogston said. "I enjoy going to calls where an elderly person needs help and is happy to see you. We're here to help."

Clogston got involved with the fire department through the Boy Scouts' Explorers program. He joined at age 16, and he got onto the Plymouth force at age 18.

"I was promoted to call firefighter in 1989, and was hired full-time in 1990," he said.

Dual careers

Morrison was hired the same day as Clogston — Sept. 1, 1990 — after working as a volunteer firefighter in Wentworth during the 1980s. He was promoted to shift lieutenant in 1991 and to deputy chief in 2001.

Now he's ready to assume the job Clogston is leaving. Morrison said one of his goals is to let the public know more about what the department does and the critical role it plays in the safety of the town.

Morrison attended the firefighter training program at what is now Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, going on to attend Plymouth State, and he is currently seeking a master's degree in Business Administration.

Morrison commented that the department has a good relationship with Plymouth State, with several of its call firefighters coming from the student ranks.

Among them is Bonan who, like Clogston, got his feet wet with the Explorers. Bonan, who grew up in Gilford, joined the Explorers chapter there at age 15. The son of a state trooper (as Morrison was), Bonan originally planned to take a police job but instead took a position as a call firefighter on April 15, 2003, as a senior in high school.

When he went on to Plymouth State University, he also became a call firefighter there, taking fire training classes during the summer. The Plymouth Fire Department hired Bonan full-time in 2008, and he was promoted to captain on Sept. 14, 2015.

Hard lessons

Any firefighter will encounter tough situations, and Morrison recalled some of the worst were the Congregational Church fire in Plymouth in the 1980s and the Adrian's Way fire this past February that displaced residents in the Plymouth Terrace Apartments.

While serving in Gilford, Bonan earned a citation for outstanding operations as part of the team dealing with the Diamond Island boat accident on June 15, 2008, in which Stephanie Beaudoin of Meredith lost her life and Erica Blizzard of Laconia, operator of the boat, and Nicole Shinopules of Burlington, Massachusetts, were seriously injured.

Clogston recalled an off-campus housing fire in which several people were trapped, requiring a rescue with the ladder truck. As one of those on the ladder, Clogston did not realize until later that his ears had been burned during the rescue.

His worst fire, however, was personal. His father perished during a woods fire when a microburst flung down a tree that struck him.

"We have a different level of what's an emergency because of what we've seen," Morrison said. "We go to so many disaster scenes, and we're trained to not lose it."

Down time

One way of keeping it together is to have outside pursuits. Both Clogston and Morrison said they like outdoors recreation — getting into the woods, snowmobiling, or skiing — while for Bonan, it's hockey.

Bonan has competed in the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Battle of the Badges hockey matches for nine years, and he continues to take part in the program. He also has an interest in motorcycles.

When on duty, though, the work is becoming more complex.

Departments everywhere are seeing an increasing call volume, with medical calls accounting for two-thirds of what they do.

Morrison said that, when he joined the Plymouth department, there were 1,000 calls a year, but last year's logs showed 1,750 calls.

Plymouth is seeking a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant that would cover four new full-time firefighters, to keep up with the demand.

Morrison noted that there is a need to adjust to generational needs, as well.

"The younger firefighters want things to be more black-and-white, so we revamped our standard operating guidelines," he said, leaving less to interpretation.

As fire equipment gets larger, the 50-year-old fire station has required some customization: fire engines with a shorter wheelbase so they fit inside, and they had to raise the overhead door to accommodate them.

Clogston said the safety equipment is another area with significant changes over the years. Air packs had just come out when he started his job, and firefighters used to wear long coats and long boots.

"Upgrades are always reactive," he said, "but the town has been very supportive."

Changes in home construction have brought new needs, Clogston noted, saying the glue and synthetics in new homes cause them to burn hotter and more quickly, with pollutants they need to be aware of.

Morrison and Bonan are looking forward to the challenges in their new roles as they continue to move the department forward.

Martin Lord Osman
Tiffany Eddy
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