BRATTLEBORO -- After almost four decades of relying on Dale Shipp to maintain a reliable and life saving connection with the people and businesses of Brattleboro, the town’s fire department is going to have to get used to a new voice.
Shipp is retiring as the Brattleboro Fire Department’s Fire Alarm Superintendent this Friday after installing, upgrading and maintaining the town’s alarm system for 40 years.
"I’m sure questions will pop up, but they’ll manage," Shipp said Tuesday as a radio project for the town’s newest truck waited on his desk. "It’s never going to be a good time to leave, but for me, it’s time."
As the town’s Fire Alarm Superintendent, Shipp is responsible for about 25 miles of cables and 290 alarm boxes that are scattered from one end of town to the other.
He also works on the fire department’s radio and lighting systems, and assists all town departments with radio communication, lighting, and electronics.
But after decades of being on the receiving end of the 24-hour emergency telephone calls, Shipp is ready to hand that responsibility off and move closer to his daughters and grandchildren in Connecticut.
"We’ve been planning for this day because we knew it was coming," said Fire Chief Mike Bucossi. "A lot of knowledge and expertise will be leaving town in a few days. I’m sure we’re going to have some anxious
Along with maintaining the wires and electronics Shipp has been the department’s voice and face when he is out meeting with property owners about the alarm system.
"He’s touched a lot of lives in 40 years," Bucossi said. "He is going to be missed throughout the town family."
Over the past few years, as the department came to realize that Shipp was nearing retirement, Bucossi had him begin to put together a manual on all of the intricacies of the town’s emergency communications systems.
That manual is more than 100 pages long, and Bucossi expects to put it to use soon after Shipp walks out the door Friday.
Since taking on full time duties as the alarm supervisor Shipp has watched the department modernize, and the equipment in the alarm office shrink from a room full of batteries and consoles to a single, solid state controller.
Shipp was hired as a firefighter by former BFD Chief T. Howard Mattison in June 1969. He took over as alarm supervisor in 1974 because of his love and knowledge of electronics and technology.
As the department’s alarm supervisor Shipp had to go to bed every night knowing he was responsible for the millions of dollars of property and inventory that were wired to the alarm system.
And while Shipp has been instrumental, Bucossi said, in bringing the fire department’s communication system into the 21st century, he also had his hands in just about every other wiring and communications project throughout town over the past 40 years.
When public works needed someone to help with a traffic light Shipp was the go-to guy. When Rescue Inc. made changes to its emergency dispatch system, Shipp helped make the connections. And when the Brattleboro Police Department had to outfit a new cruiser, update its dispatch or stay ahead of the latest communications technology, Shipp was always around to help.
Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn said it is not going to be easy to replace him right away.
"I’m sure we’re going to be calling Dale at some point in the coming months," said Wrinn. "That is a lot of knowledge he is going to be taking out the door when he leaves Friday."
Wrinn said that as busy as Shipp was maintaining the fire department’s complex emergency alarm system, he was always available to help the police officers and detectives with their electronic communications needs.
Wrinn said the ever-changing electronic and computerized systems require someone who is talented and up to date, and Shipp was always around to make sure the residents of Brattleboro were connected and protected through power outages, emergencies and day-to-day challenges.
"He does it all. From traffic lights, to emergency lights, to radios, to alarm systems to dispatch; you name it, he had his fingers in it," Wrinn said. "There have been big changes from when you just had to be a backyard mechanic. Now you need technical proficiency in electronics and computer boards. He’s an important guy and he will be missed."
The public is invited to Shipp’s retirement party, which will be held on Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the fire station on Elliot Street.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279