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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Rheaume takes over as new Poquonnock Bridge fire chief

    Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Jeffrey Rheaume gets a hug from his daughter, Brielle, 16, while she and her sisters, Linnaya, 17, and Angelia, 20, congratulate him Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, after his swearing in ceremony at Thrive 55+ Active Living Center in Groton. Rheaume replaced Chief Timothy Driscoll who is retiring Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Moments before being sworn in as the new Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Jeffrey Rheaume, left, and Chief Timothy Driscoll chat with people Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, before his swearing in ceremony at Thrive 55+ Active Living Center in Groton. Driscoll is retiring on Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Members of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, listen during the swearing in ceremony Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, for new Fire Chief Jeffrey Rheaume at Thrive 55+ Active Living Center in Groton. Rheaume is replacing Chief Timothy Driscoll who is retiring Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Jeffrey Rheaume is sworn in as chief Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, by Susan Aguiar, clerk and treasurer for the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, during the ceremony at Thrive 55+ Active Living Center in Groton. Rheaume is replacing Chief Timothy Driscoll who is retiring on Thursday. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― Poquonnock Bridge Fire Chief Timothy Driscoll, who has served with the fire department for 26 years, turned over command Wednesday to Jeffrey Rheaume, a longtime New London firefighter who recently served there as battalion chief.

    Family members, supporters, Poquonnock Bridge firefighters and first responders from Groton, Norwich and New London, gathered at Thrive 55+ Active Living Center Wednesday evening for the swearing in ceremony of Rheaume. Driscoll will retire Thursday.

    “My father always told me to leave where you work better than when you got it,” Driscoll said to a roomful of more than 50 people as he stood on the stage.

    Driscoll said he felt he had accomplished this and is turning over the department to Rheaume, who then will turn over the department better than he got it after a very successful career as fire chief. Driscoll thanked his family and those, many of them first responders and fire officials, who supported him throughout his career.

    Reflecting on his years of service, Driscoll said in a phone interview Wednesday that his proudest accomplishment is being part of the team at the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department. He said any accomplishment has been achieved with everyone buying in and coming together, from all the adversity to the celebrations. Everyone is focused on protecting the public first and foremost and doing what is best for the residents, he said.

    “From the moment I stepped foot in as a most junior firefighter to now retiring as the chief of the department, it’s always been that camaraderie, that complete unison in working together and the utmost respect up and down the whole entire ranks that's in the department today,” Driscoll said.

    Driscoll, 57, began voluntereing at the Niantic Fire Department in 1987 and from the start he said he realized that he had the skill set, drive and love for the fire service.

    Four years later he began his career service at the Naval Submarine Base fire department. He was hired by the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department in 1997. He was promoted to captain on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and then to deputy chief in 2015 and chief in July of 2021.

    Driscoll said he plans to spend time with his family in his retirement. Driscoll, who also is quick to give credit to the board of directors and the membership, said the department, which has 26 employees, has never been stronger, from the firefighting talent that is “the best, bar none” to its financial position, and will only continue to improve.

    The Town Council this year increased the share of state P.I.L.O.T. funding, which the town receives from the state, to the fire districts.

    “The Town of Groton and the public should be very proud of this department,” he said.

    New chief

    After being sworn in on Wednesday, Rheaume thanked his family, supporters, first responders and fire officials. Rheaume said he didn’t know he would end up at Poquonnock Bridge, but said he “couldn’t be in a better place.” He told the attendees that he couldn’t be there without them.

    Driscoll has been working with Rheaume for the past four weeks, which Rheaume said in a phone interview will set the fire department up for success moving forward.

    “Jeffrey Rheaume is the top, top quality guy, and this department is very, very fortunate to have him, and he’s going to be very, very fortunate to be able to lead this department, and I think it’s just going to be a great experience for everyone,” Driscoll said.

    Rheaume, 50, said he grew up in Waterford, and his father, a volunteer fire chief at the Oswegatchie Fire Company in Waterford, introduced him to the fire service and took him to fires.

    Rheaume started in the fire service at age 15 as a volunteer in the Jordan Fire Company in Waterford. After his time there, he worked for two years as a firefighter at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and then worked in the New London Fire Department for 27 years. He was promoted up through the ranks to battalion chief, a position he held for about five years, and also was deputy emergency management director for about 7 years, before retiring in May to take a job with Eversource teaching natural gas response. He said he missed working in the fire service.

    When the position opened up for fire chief of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, he jumped at the chance, saying he wanted to return to the fire service and knew the fire department has a great reputation.

    Tom Clapsadle, chief of the Naval Submarine Base Fire Department, said in a phone interview that in the 1990s, he, Rheaume and Driscoll all were young firefighters at the submarine base.

    “What makes them special is their compassion and their integrity,” Clapsadle said of Driscoll and Rheaume.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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