Don Nourse

Don Nourse -- Fire Chief

Don NourseThe business of firefighting has changed dramatically over the past forty years – not just the equipment and personal gear, but how fires are fought and even the types of fires that departments have to deal with. As state and town standards and regulations have evolved, the duties of the fire chief have moved from a part time volunteer with another job to a full-time, professional conducting inspections, community educational outreach, and running training programs.

Don Nourse was named Wilton’s first full-time chief on June 15, 2020. He recently talked about the job, the changes he’s seen, and the challenges facing the town.

 He arrived in Wilton in 1979 as a high school sophomore. His father had taken a job as herdsman at Town Brook Beefalo in the Davisville section of town. He joined the fire department after he graduated in August of 1982.

“Gil Testa was the chief then,” he said. He worked up through the ranks, firefighter, driver, captain. “Then I took about ten years off to raise my son as a single dad.”

He returned to the department in 2011 with Ray Dick as the chief. Following the retirement of Jim Cutler, the department advocated a full time chief, which was approved at town meeting.

Nourse recently retired from Eversource Energy (previously PSNH) after a 33-year career. He began as a meter reader and held the positions of line worker, working foreman, Supervisor of the Bedford and Milford Work Centers, Large Construction Projects, and manager of distribution system operations. He led a team to centralize emergency and outreach dispatch for all of N.H. Eversource in Manchester and implemented a 24/7 troubleshooter emergency line workforce to enhance emergency and outage response.

As fire chief, he still does a lot of that.

“It’s difficult for a volunteer chief to keep up with the required inspections of churches, schools and businesses,” he said, and he is looking into a Fire Safety Inspection Program for gas and oil inspection. “That has come back to us from the building inspector. (Then Chief) Rene Houle turned it over to them in 1979 because he couldn’t keep up.”

He is trying to set up a fire prevention program in the schools and regularly visit day cares “so they’ll be used to us and know what to do.”

FD PatchThe department currently has 25 firefighters. “A full roster is 33, and we’d like to have that,” he said. “In 1990 there were 38 with a waiting list. Those days are long gone. We have a hard time getting people to commit to the training. I’d like folks to go through the state certification program for level 1, about 200+ hours.”

“Getting volunteers is a national problem”, he said. “And some businesses are not as receptive to people leaving as they were – dropping everything to go to an emergency. A lot of people work two jobs, people travel (to work) and it’s tough.”

“We are hosting an Emergency Medical Response class for members”, he said. “The class includes firefighters from Lyndeborough and an individual from Wilton Ambulance so that we can offer more assistance at medical emergencies”.

The department’s fire-rescue vehicle assists the ambulance, and they have an off-road vehicle “to get people out of the woods. People get themselves into precarious places.”

He also checks new driveways to be sure his equipment can get to the house. Larger trucks might not fit on some existing long and steep driveways.

Codes and standards change. “I’m trying to get the department up to current standards. We are rebuilding fire ponds and fixing dry hydrants. We want to get funding at town meeting to upgrade rural fire protection. I hope by the end of the year we’ll be updating our equipment and the Capital Improvements Plan.”

This year’s Town Meeting has been postponed until June 17th because of the Corona virus. “We have several articles on the warrant. It’s not only the cost repairing equipment, it’s the time out of service that continues to challenge us.”

“The average age of their trucks is 27 years and parts are hard to find, he said. “We are trying to replace two vehicles with one new one.”

He has implemented a new software reporting system, “keeping the permits and inspections in better order,” with a computer in a new vehicle, a Tahoe-type if approved at this year’s Town Meeting. He’d like to get all that information, as well as his own protective gear and fire extinguishers out of his personal truck. “It’s basically a fire truck. I’m usually the first one there and there’s a lot you can do.”

He is optimistic. “We’ll do what we can afford to do, over time, so we can serve the town a little better.”

If you want to help, check the Fire Department page on the town website at

Don and his wife Lori live on Adams Drive.


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