July 22, 2024

Seekonk Fire Department Thrives Under New Leadership

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The Seekonk Fire Department has seen its share of ups and downs the past few years due to leadership changes and several staff departures. Fire Chief Shawn Whalen and Deputy Chief Adam Dalessio are proud of where the department is right now.

Whalen and Dalessio were appointed to their positions by the Select Board last March. Whalen has been with the department for over 22 years, Dalessio for 15. Dalessio worked closely with Whalen when he joined the department. Whalen was the Senior Firefighter for ‘D’ group at the time.

 “My older brother was trying to become a firefighter for a long time, so I kind of emulated him,” recalled Whalen, an Attleboro native who caught the firefighting bug at a young age.

“My Dad was an electrical lineman for (all his life). I was the middle of three boys so we would go with my father (on calls) and observe. There would be car accidents, house fires, things like that.”

Dalessio grew up in Barrington, Rhode Island. He began volunteering for the fire department while he was in high school.

Whalen and Dalessio have responded to several major incidents during their careers, including the gas explosion and fire which destroyed the Old Grist Mill.  The 2012 fire which destroyed an industrial mill complex (the former Attleboro Dye Works) on Maple Avenue was another big one.

“You name the fire, I’ve probably been to it,” Whalen said.

Dalessio remembers the Rand Street mill fire in Pawtucket in 2020. The blaze was so massive that close to 250 firefighters from neighboring communities were brought in to battle it.

“There were three or four mills that caught fire,” Dalessio said. “I was the on-duty lieutenant that night. (Seekonk) was one of the first mutual aid engines on the scene. You could actually see the fire from Beverage Hill in East Providence. We were there for at least 10 hours.”

The Fire Department has had four Chiefs in the last four years. Former Chief Sandra Lowery retired last February after two years in the position.

Michael Small, a former Falmouth Fire Chief, served as Chief on an interim basis until a permanent replacement could be appointed.

Whalen said despite the changes, morale has always been high in the fire department.

 “The town gives us everything that we ask for. We have the support of the community. We have the support of the Town Hall. Everyone takes pride in the job, pride in being a firefighter.”

Whalen noted the department is well respected, which has drawn the attention of personnel in other fire departments looking to make lateral transfers.

Whalen and Dalessio feel teamwork and flexibility are important in their management of the fire department.

“You have to be able to lead in a different way when different circumstances are present,” Dalessio explained. “There’s times to change the gears in your leadership style for the situation in hand.”

“I have very high expectations of people,” Whalen added. “We’re all a big giant family. It’s about us a family, us a team.”

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