BURRILLVILLE – Even in retirement, those who call for help will more likely than not find him at the scene of emergencies in Burrillville, volunteering time to the profession that has been his focus for nearly five decades.
Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell plans to retire from the job in early September, with Deputy Chief Marcel Fontenault to take the reins leading the village district.
But Gingell, a lifelong Burrillville resident who has served as fire chief since he was promoted from the longtime role of deputy chief in 2018, says he’ll continue to serve his community, albeit in a less demanding role.
“I plan on staying on as a volunteer with Harrisville Hose Company,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not going to be 27/7, 365 (days a year) like it has been.”
Gingell began serving in Harrisville in 1974 at the age of 16. He rose through the ranks, serving without interruption in the years since, and nearly all of his professional career has been dedicated to the village, save a brief stint when he served as interim chief in Nasonville.
And his career is just the latest chapter in what has been a long-standing tradition of village firefighting for the Gingell family. Generations of Gingells have served the department, including Chief Michael’s brother, father and grandfather.
“It was all men, then,” the chief said of his start some 49 years ago. “Things have changed a lot.”
Now, Gingell’s daughter, Amanda Gingell, serves as Harrisville fire’s safety officer. His granddaughter, Eliza Richard, is an EMT/firefighter, and grandson Devin has become a volunteer.
“I still have many relatives and friends in there,” he said of the department.
Gingell said it’s the right time to step down from the chief role, both for personal reasons, and for the department’s future. He notes that his wife, Brenda Gingell, retired from her job last year.
“My wife and family deserve much more of my time,” he said.
Plus, “I’m leaving in good standing, and I’m confident in my replacement. Marcel is an excellent choice. He’s well accepted and respected by the members,” said Gingell.
Fontenault, who was recently appointed to fill the position by the district’s Operating Committee, has served as deputy chief in Harrisville since 2021. The incoming department leader began his career as a volunteer in Nasonville, where he would eventually serve as chief.
Fontenault also served for the Smithfield Fire District before taking a job in Warwick in 1992, and was promoted to the rank of captain in Warwick in 2016. He retired from the position of acting chief in Warwick in March of 2019, and has also served as part time chief in Pascoag.
He will officially take over in Harrisville on September 2, following Gingell’s last day September 1.
“We’re looking forward to Chief Fontenault’s expertise and knowledge,” said Harrisville Capt. Norman Mainville this week.
Still, Mainville said, the department will miss its outgoing leader.
“He’s been a mentor to me personally,” the captain said of Gingell. “Good luck, chief.”
For Gingell, the change means time to travel the U.S. – and to actually watch his grandchildren participate in sports.
“I want to make sure I’m at all the events and games,” Gingell said. “It really has been a true commitment that I’ve made. There were a lot of interruptions.”
And of course, he plans to volunteer, both for the district and St. Patrick’s Church where he’s a lifelong member, with efforts including the food pantry.
When asked what achievements in his career were a source of pride, the always humble chief pointed to his colleagues, and, “the commitment of the men and women of the fire department that provide excellent fire and EMS service.”
“We are very dedicated to our cause,” he said. “The department motto is, ‘loyal to our duty.’ We’ve done that, and will continue to do that.”
“Living in this community, you know your neighbors and your relatives, and you’re serving them at the worst times in their lives,” Gingell added. “It’s been truly a privilege to be able to serve them in their time of need.”