ORLEANS — After four decades of fighting fires for the town, the only thing left for retiring Chief Anthony Pike to battle was his own emotions as he said goodbye to staff and colleagues from around the Cape Feb. 21.
“I’ve said enough over the last 40 years,” he told a crowd gathered at the station in brief remarks. “This has been a dream, to serve the community. Thank you very much.”
Standing beside Pike at the podium were chiefs from other Cape departments and his successor, Geof Deering, whose promotion won unanimous support the night before from the selectmen.
“I’m gonna be here for the long haul,” Deering, a 19-year veteran of the department, replied when Selectman Cecil Newcomb asked him Feb. 20 where he saw himself in 10 years. “My wife is in the back row. We have kids in school. We’re not going anywhere. This is a career for me, a chance to get the things done I’d like to see done. There are some big projects. We’ve got to look at staffing, the building. Those things need constant attention, and I’d like to be the guy that does it.”
At the selectmen’s meeting, it was Pike sitting in the audience listening to Deering. Other seats were filled by chiefs, deputies, and personnel from a range of Cape departments. When Deering got the job, they stood and applauded.
In a two-day span over less than 24 hours, Pike made his last appearance as chief at the Orleans Citizen Forum session on public safety at the senior center, watched Deering’s interview with the selectmen, and stood in his station listening to state Rep. Sarah Peake speak of a “bittersweet day.” The Provincetown resident praised Pike for his regional commitments and collaborative ways and noted his “sage advice” for her “tightly packed community filled with kindling we call housing.”
Of course, fire departments do more than fight fires these days. At the citizens forum, Pike said, “We run an advanced life support agency,” transporting about a thousand patients a year to Cape Cod Hospital and making another thousand emergency medical services calls, “from dressing a small wound or putting someone back in bed who’s fallen out… We treat people like they’re family.”
The realm of public safety is a constantly changing environment, Pike noted, pointing to response planning Police Chief Scott MacDonald and he have done. Protocols now call for paramedics to accompany police personnel into active shooter situations, wearing the same protection vests, so they can help victims faster.
Concerns about sharks near bathing beaches arose almost a decade ago, the chief said, and he began calling for more resources to protect residents and visitors. “Orleans now has the most aggressive posture on beach protection on Cape Cod and probably in New England,” he said. Pike is proud of the cooperation that led to a string of successful Stop the Bleed training sessions, with more to come. “Stop the Bleed for public safety is going to be like CPR was 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s one of the most important public safety initiatives we’ve ever had.”
One initiative the outgoing chief says must be addressed is the condition of the fire station. “We’re in a critical spot,” he said. “It’s been too small for 10 years. Now studies show that (it) may be making us sick. We’re dealing with cancer-causing agents. It’s now documented that we’re not protecting our staff… The thing that concerns me is that there’s no way to protect people in that building now… it’s of critical concern to protect the people who are protecting you.”
Less than an hour later, Pike listened as selectmen quizzed Deering about that and other subjects. “We’ve got to look really hard at making the building safe as possible for our people,” the incoming chief said. “There are (ventilation) concerns in the EMS layout where we keep our turnout gear. There’s a clear correlation of exposures and cancer in our industry… At the end of the day, we need a building where the air quality is good and (functions) are separated.” The Brewster resident said he’d been involved with the effort to build a new fire station there, a task that he hoped “would give me tools” to work on the next step for Orleans.
Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison asked whether towns could take a more regional approach to funding fire and rescue services. “Fully regionalizing fire and medical services on Cape Cod is a big task,” Deering said. “There would probably be some long-term cost savings with doing that.” But the short-term practicalities are always hard to overcome. When he was in college in Connecticut, Deering served in a city that had three separate fire departments. “They’re still struggling with consolidation, for 50 years,” he said. On Cape Cod, said Deering, “on a day-to-day basis, regionalization is already going on… Communications is pretty much regionalized, dispatch, our protocols, mutual aid. Some of the infrastructure stuff is more challenging. How do you distribute people and equipment in a better way?”
After the interview last week, Deering shook hands with the selectmen and accepted congratulations and embraces from Cape colleagues. Tony Pike was in that line to welcome the next generation of department leadership.