When it came time for the New London Fire Department to make its choice for the Firefighter of the Year to be honored at an annual Elks Lodge ceremony on Sunday, Deputy Chief Henry Kydd felt there had been a major omission.
Chief Ron Samul, who plans to retire at the end of the month, has been with the department since 1970 and became chief in 1985. Elks trustee Herb Eldridge said Samul has attended every Firefighters Day event since it started. But the chief has never been the honoree, and Kydd said it was time he was recognized.
“He not only helped out department out of the dark ages when he took over, but he also has helped the community at large,” Kydd said.
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Samul, a Vietnam War veteran, was a founding member of organizations such as the New London County Fire Chiefs’ Association. Kydd said Samul has been instrumental in working with the chiefs of surrounding departments and credited him with supporting regionalization efforts, which Kydd said he hopes are realized in a regional dispatch center.
City Council President Michael Passero, a firefighter, thanked Samul on behalf of the Council and said Samul has been chief for 28 or his 29 years on the department. Mayor Daryl Finizio said Samul is one of the longest serving fire chiefs in the Northeast and has also served the city on several occasions as an interim city manager.
“He joined as part of a proud family tradition, a family tradition that will continue after his retirement,” said Finizio. “And I would say to him, to his family, to all those who served with him, his active service will be missed but we know he won’t be too far away.”
Remembering the departed
Samul said he has an opportunity to work with several dedicated people in his career. He recalled sitting with former Niantic fire chief Fred Johnson at the first Elks event and doing work with Johnson such as planning how to respond to emergencies at the Millstone Power Station.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with all these great people, and of course you always learn something from great people,” said Samul. “So if that helped me be a little better chief, then it really is because of those folks who showed us how to be good officers and good leaders.”
Johnson began volunteering for the Niantic Fire Department in 1942 and served until his death in 2004 at the age of 80. One of his grandchildren, Michael Nebelung, earned his firefighter’s certification at the age of 19 and was honored as the Firefighter of the Year for the Niantic Fire Department.
State Rep. Ed Jutila, who gave a citation from the Connecticut General Assembly for all the firefighters honored on Sunday, also spoke about how Johnson had helped him.
“I learned a lot about the fire department from Chief Johnson, but I learned even more about life,” said Jutila.
Also honored was Larry Cochran Sr. Cochran, a posthumous choice by the Goshen Fire Department for Firefighter of the Year. Cochran, who first started serving with the department in 1959, passed away in January at the age of 69.
“Larry served us so well, and he was such a good person,” said Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward. “Certainly we thank the family for allowing him to be a part of our lives.”
“Patriots to our community”
The Elks ceremony asks fire departments in East Lyme, the Mohegan Tribe, Montville, New London, and Waterford to choose a recipient for the award. There is also an award for the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Paramedic of the Year.
Mayor Ron McDaniel of Montville praised the departments for working together to respond to emergencies.
“When one of you is in trouble, you all rally around him and help each other out,” said McDaniel.
Eldridge also said he was glad to recognize the first responders.
“You’re all patriots to our community, and you’re all heroes to someone when they’re in crisis and you arrive,” he said.
Those who received honors at Sunday’s event were:
- Stephanie Archambault, L+M Paramedics
- Arthur Brooks, Oakdale Fire Department
- Larry Cochran Sr. (posthumous), Goshen Fire Department
- Randall Grout, Montville Fire Department
- Michael Lewis, Chesterfield Fire Department
- Marcus Milukas, Quaker Hill Fire Department
- Michael Nebelung, Niantic Fire Department
- Timothy O’Neill, Jordan Fire Department
- Chief Ronald Samul, New London Fire Department
- Justin Sylvestre, Oswegatchie Fire Department
- Ronald York, Mohegan Tribal Fire Department