Massachusetts Officer Blazes New Trail as Firefighter

Posted: 10-10-2008
Updated: 10-10-2008 12:00:03 PM

The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

BEVERLY -- Like many kids, Mark Brewer grew up wanting to be a police officer or firefighter. Unlike most kids, his dream came true on both counts.

After almost 12 years as a Beverly police officer, Brewer is now the city's newest firefighter. He was sworn in Aug. 18, making him the first person in memory -- maybe ever -- to move from the police station to the fire station.

"From what I hear, no one's done it in the history of Beverly," Brewer said. "Wherever I go, talking to other departments, people stop and say, 'You did what?'"

Fire Chief Richard Pierce had a similar reaction.

"I'm still shocked," he said. "I've never seen it done before. But we're glad to have him."

Brewer took the firefighter civil service test in May 2007 and scored high enough to earn an interview with the Beverly Fire Department. Pierce said Brewer's years of experience as a police officer definitely stood out.

"He just has a good background," Pierce said. "He already knows how to deal with the public in an emergency, so that's a plus right there. Deputy Chief (Paul) Cotter already asked me about using him for his interview skills with the fire investigation unit."

Brewer said he was happy being a police officer, but was "just ready to make a change in my life." He grew up in Ryal Side, graduated from Beverly High School in 1986 and worked for the Essex County Sheriff's Department for six years as a jail guard before joining the Beverly Police Department.

"There's no negative reasons (for the change)," he said. "I'm just about to turn 40, and I just decided I paid my debt to society. This will give me a well-rounded career."

Ironically, Brewer's new schedule as a firefighter will allow him to stay in law enforcement. Firefighters work 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, followed by five off days. During his time off, Brewer, who is single, will work part time as a police officer in Wenham, where he was sworn in over the summer.

"Basically, I have the best of both worlds right now," he said.

Brewer said it was difficult to walk into police Chief Mark Ray's office and tell him he was leaving. Ray was Brewer's lieutenant for most of his 12 years on the force and had become his mentor.

"He was my go-to guy when I had a question," Brewer said. "Even on the personal side, he was the guy I went to. If I hadn't made the decision well before he was picked as chief, I may have stayed with the Police Department because he was the man for the position."

Brewer and another new firefighter, Ryan Laracy, have been training with the Fire Department and will attend the 12-week Massachusetts Firefighting Academy starting this month.

It didn't take long for the former police officer to get his boots wet. On his first day, he helped put out a fire in a construction Dumpster next to a house in Ryal Side.

Brewer will be wearing the same badge number, No. 7, that he had with the Police Department, but he's anticipating a different reception from the public in his new job. Police officers respond to mostly negative situations, he said, and one side in any dispute is bound to be unhappy with the officer. He doesn't see those same conflicts arising as a firefighter.

"The saying is, everyone loves a firefighter," he said. "I got another 15 years, so maybe I'll be liked for 15 years."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service