Retiring Whately firefighters honored for service, inspiring younger members

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-17-2023 2:15 PM

WHATELY — The community celebrated three retiring firefighters on Saturday, including the chief, whose contributions total more than 150 years of service to the town.

Retired Chief John Hannum, his brother Peter Hannum and John Lasalle all started serving the Whately Fire Department at 18 years old. With the three all having retired in the past year, the Fire Station hosted a chicken barbecue in their honor.

“Collectively, that is 156 years of institutional knowledge and volunteer contributions,” said JP Kennedy, who was sworn in as Whately’s new fire chief on June 20. “They will be sorely missed and relied upon from time to time for their expertise.”

The department has changed greatly since the Hannum brothers and Lasalle first joined. While a siren at the Fire Station was an older mode of alerting volunteer firefighters to emergencies, cellphone notifications and radio technology assist in communications today.

The retiring firefighters also remarked that when they first started, they received little to no training. Lasalle even began assisting with fires before he was 18. When there were large fires in town, he would arrive with his father to help in any way he could.

Lasalle thanks the new firefighters who have stepped up to fill the positions in the department as the men of his generation have aged out.

“We have some nice, good young people in the department,” Lasalle said.

“It’s the community that we serve and that we belong to that is the most important,” he added. “Everyone does a little bit to make this town better. Being in town and just showing up is what I gave.”

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The three men carry on longstanding family traditions of serving the Fire Department, having each followed in the footsteps of their fathers. They also served as role models to younger firefighters and inspired new members to join.

“When I first started, we looked up to several people that seemed to be fixtures in the department,” Kennedy said. “They inspired me to pursue a career in firefighting.”

He noted their consistent presence is what kept many of the younger members around.

“Thanks for inspiring a generation of firefighters,” Kennedy said.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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