From extra to deputy, Jonathan White covered 50 years of fire calls

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This spring Fire Chief David Flannery (right) presented retired Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan White with an award honoring White’s 50 years of service with the department. (Photo by George Middleton)

At a recent Carlisle Firefighter’s Relief Association dinner, Jonathan White was honored on the occasion of his retirement.  Just over 50 years after he signed as an “extra” or auxiliary firefighter, White retired last month as Carlisle Deputy Chief. Although he has taken his last fire call, he will continue in a position created for him as Assistant to the Chief, where he will work on several projects. 

At the dinner, Fire Chief David Flannery noted that White, a resident of the Carlisle Town Center, was 15 years old when he first appeared in the Carlisle fire log book on April 19, 1968. From that date on, his name shows up frequently as a responder. He was appointed as a regular firefighter in 1974 by then Chief Waldo Wilson, and promoted to Captain in 1990 under Chief Bob Koning. In 2003, Chief Flannery made him Deputy Chief.

Jonathan is a graduate of the Carlisle Public Schools and Concord-Carlisle High School. He was a freshman at CCHS when he joined the Carlisle department. Later, he worked for Wilson Lumber in Concord as a foreman and for the Carlisle DPW plowing snow. He left Wilson Lumber when he was hired by the Concord Fire Department, where he was a Firefighter/EMT. He was later promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to West Concord. During those years he continued to work for Carlisle as a call firefighter. He is now retired from the Concord Fire Department.

When White started in Carlisle, the department had about half the number of responders with a budget of $8,000 (in FY19 it is almost $550,000).  He served with Herb Bates, who was also Chief of Police, and with Deputy Chief George Foss who ran the Carlisle Texaco gas station. Others on the department included Rick Bates, David Booth, Roger Davis, Robert Koning, Richard Metivier and Kenneth Duren.

Remarkable commitment, concern for firefighters

In a phone call Tuesday, Flannery noted White’s “exceptional commitment to the town that he worked in for a remarkable 50 years.” He reported that firefighters all valued his concern for their safety and well-being, whether it was having the right training, tools or equipment. “They knew he had their backs,” said Flannery.

In 1985 Jonathan provided the leadership for the formation of the Carlisle Firefighter’s Relief Association. The Association honors members of the Fire Department and provides assistance to firefighters and to residents who are burned out of their homes. It also promotes fire safety education. The value of the organization is endorsed by Chief Flannery, who notes, “One of my proudest moments with the Association was in 2000 when we honored six firefighters who had 20 plus years service.” These firefighters received markers on their graves in Carlisle’s Green Cemetery. Another project of the Relief Association is providing Knox Boxes to senior citizens. These are secure boxes that attach to front doors containing keys and medical information. In an emergency, fire personnel can open the box to gain entry to the house without breaking down doors. “We have used this several times,” reports the Chief.

Another of White’s contributions was ensuring water was available to every household in Carlisle. Flannery notes “his exceptional knowledge of town water sources, whether brooks, ponds, or watering holes.” When White was a Captain he was given responsibility to map and list these sources, and became a walking encyclopedia of Carlisle hydrology. He helped develop a database of water sources for every property in Carlisle, indicating where cisterns are needed and recording details such as long driveways so the department could pre-plan its response.

Flannery laughed when I noted that White himself was unavailable to comment for this article. He said that White has been downplaying his retirement and related a story of gathering the department for a yearly photo, and discovering White was not there. Flannery called him to say, “It’s your last photo with the department. You need to be here.” After some cajoling, White appeared, and everyone was photographed together for the final time before his departure. “I was very happy,” says Flannery. “It was important to everyone for him to be there.”

White will continue to push forward the $3 million emergency response communications system (see article, pageg 5), which is going into the site hearing stage. Other projects he is involved in include the fire safety cistern in the Birch Farms development at 100 Long Ridge Road; a project on West Street; the proposed cluster housing project on Bedford Road; and the specifications for the ambulance replacement. He is also helping transition Burt Rubenstein into an interim role as Deputy Chief. Both Rubinstein and Chief Flannery plan to retire in 2019, at which time the Selectmen will make a decision on hiring a new chief who can appoint his own deputy.

Flannery says he personally will miss having White as his deputy, “I could count on him to just get the job done. If I asked him to do something, I didn’t have to worry. It was just done.” But, he adds, “The transition is going very smoothly. I’m very fortunate to have Burt.” With more transitions in leadership on the horizon, the Carlisle Fire Department will certainly miss the experience and knowledge of Jonathan White. ∆