SALEM — Alan “Al” Dionne is honored to be Salem’s newest fire chief, he told a crowd of several hundred people after being officially sworn in during a Monday morning ceremony.
“But this day is not just about me,” he said, specifically addressing his fellow firefighters. “It is about the entire Salem Fire Department. I am just one small part of something amazing, something that involves each and every one of you. You are the Salem Fire Department. You are the ones who come to work day in and day out to serve your community. You are the ones willing to risk it all and make the sacrifices necessary to be a firefighter.”
Dionne, who has been serving as acting chief since former Chief Gerry Giunta’s retirement in February, was sworn in by Mayor Kim Driscoll July 19 at the Hawthorne Hotel, surrounded by friends, family and public officials from across the state.
“I am confident that Al will be a great chief for the Salem Fire Department, not just because of his credentials or his experience, but because of his character and his drive,” Driscoll said. “He is the kind of leader who does not shy away from challenges. He does not shirk at the responsibility of taking on more. He is also the kind of chief that will strive to give his team the tools and the training that they need to succeed. Trust me, he is already advocating for you.”
State Sen. Joan Lovely, a longtime friend of Dionne's, told the crowd she is excited to see the department continue to grow under Dionne’s leadership.
“He is someone who has become the person who you can always rely on,” she said. “I can think of no one more deserving to lead our exceptional department — a brotherhood and a sisterhood like no other.”
State Rep. Paul Tucker, who retired as Salem's police chief in 2014 and who worked with Dionne during his police career, said the coronavirus pandemic of the past year has showcased how flexible fire departments must be, and Dionne is up for the challenge.
“Although firefighting at its core remains the same as what firefighters have done for generations, the complexities have grown, and so has the need for strong departmental leadership, chiefs in particular,” Tucker said. “Chiefs must evolve to lead the men and women capably, effectively and safely, and with Mayor Driscoll's appointment of Chief Dionne to take the reigns of this department, she has selected someone who is ready, tested and experienced to take an already excellent department to the next level."
State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey reiterated this point.
"(The pandemic) reminds us that the fire service continues to face new challenges every day, and with leadership well-prepared like Chief Dionne, his command staff, and the men and women of the Salem Fire Department, his brothers and sisters in Essex County and across the commonwealth, we are fortunate to have the ability to react and respond and perform the appropriate functions for the fire service with such great leadership," Ostroskey said.
Dionne first joined the Salem Fire Department in 1993 after graduating from the Massachusetts Fire Academy. Over the past 28 years he’s risen through the ranks, from firefighter to lieutenant, captain, deputy chief and acting chief.
Over the years, Dionne said he's faced numerous challenges, both physical and emotional. It is not always easy, but he said he loves being a member of the Fire Department.
"It can be a fun job if we let it. We get to ride the big trucks, do cool stuff and look cool doing it. Let's face it: Kids love us. Without a doubt, being a firefighter is the coolest job in the city," he joked and offered a sarcastic apology to the other public safety professionals in Salem.
Dionne thanked his friends, family and the Salem firefighters who came before him.
"I assure you," he said, "I will do my best to continue this tradition of excellence that we are known for."
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.