Published in the January 25, 2018 edition

FIRE CHIEF BILL WARNOCK is surrounded by his favorite crew – his family – at his retirement party, from left his sons Reid and Ryan, his wife Kim, and his son R.J. (Maureen Doherty Photo)


NORTH READING — Retiring from the family business is never an easy task, especially when that business has defined you and your entire family tree throughout your life.

Your grandfather, your father, you and now, your son, committed their lives to be of service to others around the clock as firefighters and first responders who are willing to risk their own lives to help save the lives and properties of their friends and neighbors. At any hour of the day or night, regardless of the odds, the conditions or the weather, when the bell rang, you answered the call.

ALL BUT TWO of the current retired North Reading Fire Chiefs were able to attend Friday’s retirement party for Bill Warnock, from left: Richie Harris, Warnock, Ed O’Brien and Fred Shaw. Missing are Nelson Harris and Dave Harlow who live out of state. (Maureen Doherty Photo)

Such was the case for Fire Chief Bill Warnock, who finished his final shift at the North Reading Fire Department on January 19, completing his entire 35-year career by reporting for duty to the same station where he had ridden his bike as a young boy to hang out with his dad, firefighter Bud Warnock, and his dad’s buddies, dreaming of the day he could be just like them.

On Friday afternoon, a couple of hundred people took the time to thank Chief Warnock for his service during a luncheon set up in the garage bays where the trucks are usually parked nose-to-nose, enjoying good grub and good conversation as they reminisced about the good ol’ days and the end of an era.

Among them was his dad, who had traveled from his home in Venice, Florida. Bud Warnock retired as an acting captain in 2006 after 43 years of service and proudly pointed out that between them the Warnock family had racked up 114 years of continuous service to the North Reading Fire Department. His father, the late Captain John Henry Warnock, began his career in town in the 1940s in the old wooden fire house and served 36 years. Bud’s service overlapped both his own dad’s and his son’s. In fact, Bill pointed out that it was quite a trip to outrank his dad for a little while after he had been named a captain.

NORTH READING Police Chief Michael Murphy (right) presents Fire Chief Bill Warnock with a plaque featuring the badges and patches of both departments signifying the cooperative relationship between the departments.

Now there is a fourth generation firefighter in the family as Bill’s oldest son, Reid, is currently a call firefighter in Middleton and recently became a certified paramedic. Bill commented that his one regret will be that he and his son had only answered one call together – a working fire in Middleton where North Reading had provided mutual aid. Among the gifts Bill received was a framed photograph of the two of them working together at that scene from Middleton Fire Chief Tom Martinuk.

Not one who loves the limelight, Warnock was hoping to slip quietly out the door on his last day. But his colleagues convinced him to agree to a “small gathering.” Looking out at the sea of faces who had been such a huge part of his life, Warnock surveyed the scene and admitted “I am very happy.”

Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Brad Jones were both on hand to deliver the citations from their branches of the legislature and good wishes from Gov. Baker.

Speaking off the cuff in his typical fashion, Tarr got the crowd and the applause going. “We want to say how wonderful it is, in fact, that so many people came out in town to say thanks to this great man who has given us so many years of service. It’s a real testament to this town and all the people who worked with Chief Warnock, who realize his professionalism, who understand that he is willing to help anyone at any time.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY for 114 years. Chief Bill Warnock, a third-generation North Reading firefighter (1982-2018) worked with his dad Bud (right) for many years. Bud (1962-2006) retired as an acting captain after 43 years and he also worked with his dad, Capt. John Henry Warnock, who had 36 years of service to the town.

Tarr commended his length of service and the legacy of the Warnock family’s service to the town. “That is 35 years of being away from home, of being away for training, of not being at special events sometimes with your family and always being around to help someone else, whether that is people in the department or people that call and hope for that emergency response at one of the most difficult times they are probably facing in their lives,” Tarr said.

“To have someone like Bill who shows up and says ‘I’m your neighbor, I know what I’m doing, and I’m here to help,’ there is no possible way that we can all find enough and the appropriate words to say ‘thank you’ and what it means to all of us, but it is important that we take this afternoon and we all say those words of thank you because we need to express that gratitude,” Tarr added.

“We need to express our appreciation, Bill, for the leadership that you have provided and the fact that you are a fireman’s fireman. You worked yourself up through all of the different ranks, all of the different levels of service, to become a chief that we all respect, that we all look to for leadership and that we all count on when times are tough. And that is a gift that we can truly never fully take accounting of except to say ‘thank you,’”

Tarr also thanked Warnock for his advocacy on behalf of this department and the profession in general at the state level to support the funding needed to provide appropriate gear and protocols for public safety personnel and his pursuit to ensure that his department “has the resources it needs and the morale that it takes to confront difficult situations. That is no easy task and to have done it for 35 years is absolutely remarkable,” Tarr said.

“For half of the department he has been their Fire Chief the entire time,” firefighter and Union President Matt Carroll pointed out. “Some people remember Billy as ‘call firefight Billy,’ firefighter Billy, captain Billy when I came on, then deputy chief. You’ve set great example for everybody. You will be sadly missed. Thank you on behalf of all of us.”

Deputy Chief Barry Galvin presented the chief with several gifts on behalf of the department, including his gold Fire Chief’s retirement badge. He recalled meeting Warnock in 1988 “as a kid fresh out of high school at North Shore Community College who wanted nothing but to be a firefighter. And that’s where Bill’s mentoring of me started.” It continued when he came to the NRFD in 1993, said Galvin.

“He was my captain for about five years. And I became a captain when he became deputy and he helped me every step of the way on whatever task I was taking on. It was always good advice,” Galvin said as he presented him with a personal photo collage of various milestones in their careers, including teaching a fire safety class “to youngsters when we both had hair…He has no idea how much I am going to miss him.”

Capt. Joe Marotta said it was a “great honor” to be part of the send off party for Warnock. “Our Chief, deputy, captain, firefighter. You guys can fill in the blanks on this one; you can put the word in ‘excellent’ or ‘great,’ but it’s true – friend, coach, mentor, teacher, EMS coordinator — everything he ever did, he it on time and he did it the best,” Marotta said, adding he was a bit more difficult to mentor than Galvin had been, recalling how he had stepped on Warnock’s hand on the truck his first day on the job. But after all they’ve been through together, he said, “I love this guy so much, I can honestly say he is not just my best friend, he is my brother.”

A good jake

When it was his time to speak, Warnock passionately thanked every person who had helped him along in his career, recalling something special about each firefighter with whom he had worked, as well as those who influenced him, especially his grandfather and father, both of whom “taught me that service to our town was paramount to being a firefighter in this community.” Among the many firefighters he worked with early in his career and who taught him the trade, he said, were the late Bill Schumacher, Bruce Colby, Dave Slade and Bob McCabe. “They are working for a different chief now,” he said.

“I would like to thank my wife Kim, who has supported me in every aspect of my career. She often felt like a single parent as I was out on calls on many occasions. Without her I would not have been able to accomplish anything. Thank you and I love you!”

Singling out his sons, Reid, Ryan and R.J., he thanked them for “allowing me to be the firefighter this town deserves without making me feel too guilty for missing important things in your lives.” He added that Reid’s great-grandfather must be as proud of him as both he and his grandfather are about his career choice.

He also thanked Chief Nelson Harris for hiring him to the call department back in 1982; Chief Fred Shaw for giving him his full-time job; Chief Ed O’Brien for making him a captain; and both Chief Dave Harlow and Chief Rich Harris “for always supporting me no matter what.”

To his current staff, Warnock said the North Reading Fire Department is “great because of each of you, without you, I was nothing. I have learned something from each of you. This has been the best job in the world, with the best firefighters in the world protecting the best community in the world. Thank you for allowing me to be part of it. I will be watching always; make me proud.”

“In closing, I just wanted to be a good Jake. When I leave, I wanted to be remembered as a good jake,” he said.