New Mass. interim fire chief continues family tradition

Father, former Littleton Fire Chief and Selectman Alexander McCurdy, presented his son with a fire chief helmet

By Sarah Favot
Lowell Sun

LITTLETON, Mass. — A piece of town history was made in the fire station yesterday with the inauguration of an interim fire chief, but also a family tradition for a Littleton family began.

After Alexander Steele McCurdy III, 31, took the oath of office, with his mother, Jean, holding the Bible upon which his left hand was placed, his father, former Littleton Fire Chief and Selectman Alexander McCurdy, presented his son with a fire chief helmet that he received from his firefighters and a badge that he was presented with when he was sworn in.

The ceremony suited Steele's self-described laid-back personality. It was kept short, sweet and to the point, but highlighted the tradition of firefighting in his family.

The Board of Selectmen, with Selectman McCurdy recusing himself, voted Dec. 5 to appoint Steele as interim chief. Former Chief Stephen Carter resigned from his position to become fire chief in Lincoln.

Carter recommended that Steele, the second in command, serve as acting chief.

"He's the ideal candidate," said Carter in an interview. "He's been on the department for almost 10 years, most recently appointed as full-time captain, which is essentially second in command."

Steele McCurdy said he hasn't decided whether or not he will apply for the chief's position. The selectmen are forming a search committee and hope to have a new chief by the end of June, Chairman James Karr said.

The Fire Department consists of six full-time firefighters and 34 on-call part-time firefighters.

Steele was exposed to firefighting at an early age. He said when his father was fire chief in Harvard, he would occasionally go to fire scenes.

"There was never much of a doubt in my mind of what I wanted to do when I grew up," he said.

Steele has been working with the Littleton Fire Department since 1995 when he was part of the Explorer program, a program through the Boy Scouts where high school students complete firefighter training.

Since then, he moved through the ranks of the department, becoming an on-call EMT and firefighter in 1998, a full-time firefighter in 2001 and captain in 2005.

He said putting together the fiscal 2013 budget will be a big focus in the next couple months as acting chief, but he is no stranger to developing and carrying out the budget.

Carter said one of Steele's duties as captain was working side by side with him in doing the budget and applying for grants.

Carter said Steele also completed a 13-week Chief Fire Officer training program that is designed to train new chiefs or officers applying for chief positions.

"I'm not starting out with a blank piece of paper," said Steele.

Steele described his leadership style as democratic and said it is important that the whole department feels as though they are contributing to the mission of the department in order to help carry it out.

"Obviously there are times at an emergency scene where you can't be a democratic leader, but you need to be an autocrat and say this is what needs to be done and this is how you're going to do it," he said.

For Selectman McCurdy, yesterday's ceremony reminded him of when he became chief and how extremely proud he is of his son.

"It's great to see a tradition and he has started the tradition of firefighting in the McCurdy family," said Alexander.

Steele's brother-in-law, Keith Dunn, is also a Littleton firefighter.

Alexander said although he would be there for advice, he didn't think his son would need it.

"I think he'd be a better chief than I was," he said.

Karr said choosing Steele as interim chief was a "no-brainer."

When he asked people in the department, around town and in fire departments in other towns about Steele, Karr said he heard the same thing.

"There was common themes: a good leader, an exceptional firefighter, a straight shooter and an all around good guy," he said.

For Steele, who grew up on a farm in nearby Harvard, he couldn't picture himself doing another job.

"There's no better job in the world as far as I'm concerned," he said.

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