2009 marked the end of an era in Vergennes — the Ralph Jackman era.
Jackman, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II who passed away two days into 2010 at the age of 85, stepped down as chief of the Vergennes Volunteer Fire Department on Nov. 1 after serving in that capacity for a remarkable 55 years. City officials believe he was the longest-serving fire chief in the United States.
Jackman, who had cited health concerns for his decision, was widely credited by city and state officials for helping make the Vergennes department one of the most highly regarded in Vermont.
They praised his vision in both improving training and upgrading equipment to keep up to modern standards as key elements of his leadership. The department also built and regularly improved a new fire station during his tenure. City officials also appreciated Jackman’s control of spending.
As well as serving as the city department’s chief, Jackman had signed on as a member in 1947, giving him a 62-year tenure overall.
In his resignation memo, Jackman cited the fact that he was particular proud of seeing his daughters Catherine and Christine become the state’s first female firefighters and his three grandsons complete cadet training.
In fact, firefighting runs in the Jackman family. Jackman’s father and both brothers were Bristol firefighters. Early in January 2009, firefighters from far and wide gathered in Bristol for the funeral of Jackman’s twin brother, Fred Jackman, who died late in 2008. Fred Jackman, who like his brother in Vergennes was known for his philanthropy in the Bristol area, was himself a 50-year veteran of the Bristol department, including two decades as its chief.
No doubt a similar crowd will gather this week to honor Ralph Jackman.