Former Cambridge Fire Chief Thomas Scott dies at 88

Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle on March 19, 2014.

Cambridge native Thomas Scott was born to serve his city. After working for the Cambridge Fire Department for 40 years, the last nine of which he was chief of the department, Scott died on March 11, at the age of 88.

As fire chief, Scott exemplified the ideals he strived to uphold. Intensely proud of his work, he dressed impeccably, kept himself physically fit, and made sure the fire stations and apparatus stayed clean.

“He was meticulous about his uniform and always very professional-looking,” said Fire Chief Gerald Reardon of his former boss. “You knew exactly what he expected of you and you did what he told you because he was the boss and you did what the boss said.”

Before Reardon became a firefighter, he was working as an EMT in Cambridge. It was Scott who told him where to pick up the papers for the civil service exam and where to sign them. Scott loved working for the Fire Department, Reardon said, effusing an affinity for the job that was obvious to the firefighters who served with him.

Pictures of fire trucks and apparatus dotted his home, said his oldest son, Thomas Scott Jr. It was a love affair that started at a young age. Scott’s father died when he was only five years old, Scott Jr. said, and his mother worked long days in the cafeteria of the Harvard Business School.

“She was out early in the morning and my father and his two sisters were a little bit of latchkey kids,” Scott Jr. said. “They were responsible for their own upbringing.”

Scott would hang out at the River Street fire station when his mom was away at work, finding father figures in the firehouse.

“He found himself very much attracted to that environment,” Scott Jr. said. “He was always fascinated by the work of firefighters.”

The calling to serve his city and his country was strong in Scott, his son said. Shortly after bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor, Scott Jr. said his father was ready to take up arms. It was 1942, and Scott was 16 years old.

If it weren’t for his mother worrying about his safety, he would have shipped out immediately. She made him stay, Scott Jr. said, for at least another year. Although he wanted to be a Marine, Scott Jr. said, his mother wouldn’t allow it. She permitted him to enlist in the Navy Air Corps, which he did on his 17th birthday, serving as a radioman and gunner, an experience his son said he relished.

Shortly after he returned, Scott married his high school sweetheart, Mary E. Chipman, who he met when he was 12 or 13 years old. He was 20 years old. Five years later, Scott took the civil service exam and was hired to protect the town where he was born and raised.

It was 1951 and Scott was an ambitious man. Scott Jr. said he remembered periods of time when his father would be engrossed in study. He took his job very seriously and wanted to make rank, studying ferociously before every exam.

Their lives rotated with Scott’s schedule. Their closest family friends were other families of fire fighters. They went out to dinner together, took vacations together, and participated in community events. In the summertime, the families would all tie bandanas around their car antennae at Nahant Beach so they could find each other easily in the crowds.

“They talk about the brotherhood of firefighters and what that means,” Scott Jr. said. “We can testify to that growing up because it was a very close-knit group that always did things together.”

Scott’s crowning achievement was to become chief, Scott Jr. said. It was what he was working towards his entire career.

City Manager Richard Rossi had recently been appointed deputy city manager when Scott took charge of the department in 1982. As fire chief, Scott liked to be involved.

“He was very much a hands-on chief,” Rossi said. “He was very interested in being a part of all discussions, whether it was apparatus, protective equipment, civil service, hiring; he was not one to leave it to others. He was very interested in all aspects of the job.”

Rossi said Scott was committed to professionalism and worked to see new radio systems installed and a new fleet of apparatus approved.

“The citizens really got their money’s worth with his leadership,” Rossi said.

Everyone who knew him said Scott’s heart broke the day he retired. Mandatory retirement laws require firefighters of any rank to retire on the last day of the month they turn 65. Scott waited until 5 p.m. that day before walking out the door.

“I think he was the last person to leave that day,” Reardon said. “I knew he would take it really hard. It was really difficult for him to leave.”

Scott Jr. said his father stayed active in the community even in his retirement, continuing his annual Christmas Eve visits to each of the fire stations in the city to wish the firefighters well. His best friends were former fire chiefs and deputy chiefs from neighboring towns.

In many ways, Scott Jr. said his father embodied the values of The Greatest Generation, putting family above all else, taking pride in his work, and honoring his country through service. He got along with people who worked hard and dedicated themselves to their craft, and didn’t suffer fools lightly, Scott Jr. said.

“He was a model for us,” Scott Jr. said of himself and his siblings. “A lot of our basic core, the foundation for who we are, in many respects came from him. He was devoted to his work, he loved his family, and whatever he did, he did it through action, not just words.”

Scott funeral was held on Saturday, March 15, at the Edward Sullivan Funeral Home in Burlington. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Mary E. Chipman Scott; his son, Thomas Scott Jr., and his wife, Carol, of Lexington; his son, Robert Scott, and his wife, Patricia, of Arlington; and his daughter, Kathryn Giacoppo, and her husband, Stephen, of Burlington; along with five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

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