Fire chiefs are often noted for some specialty they have brought to the Department during their tenure, and for Former Fire Chief David Butler Sr. – who passed away on Feb. 19 – he will likely be known as the leader that brought Everett into the post-9/11 era of safety and security.
Chief Butler retired in 2016 after heading up the Department for 16 years, having taken over just one year before 9/11 and the new era of security at Everett’s ports and industrial infrastructure began to dominate the City’s fire service. He died surrounded by loved ones after fighting a long and courageous battle with cancer.
On Monday, a Memorial Mass at Immaculate Conception drew a crowd of fire personnel from all over the region – as Chief Butler had spoken and presented to fire leaders all over Massachusetts and the northeast. His family attended, and were distraught by a death that came too soon. He leaves his wife, Mary, his four children, and 10 grandchildren – along with three siblings.
Chief Butler told the Independent that although he spent 39 years in the fire service, and loved his work, that he never intended to work as a firefighter – that coming from a man whose father was a lieutenant in the Everett Fire Department.
“I wasn’t one of those kids who ran around with a fire helmet on all the time,” he said in 2016. “I was around it my whole life, but this wasn’t in my plans…I majored in biological and marine sciences at Suffolk University. My goal was to work on a research vessel traveling the oceans. That was my plan and my father, who served on the Everett Fire Department, convinced me to take the Fire Exam as a back-up plan. I studied for it and got to know the job and was offered a job. I’m very grateful he suggested that. It’s been a great job.”
Butler served under three mayors, including David Ragucci, John Hanlon and Mayor Carlo DeMaria. His father, Roy Butler, served on the Department and retired as a lieutenant. His uncle, Arthur Butler, also served as chief of the department, and ironically, left that post the day before Chief Butler took the position.
In addition to being known far and wide for his expertise in the security and procedures around Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), he was also well-respected in the Metro Chiefs and the state Chiefs Associations. And, while he was a good administrator, he was also a good jake.
He told the Independent he fought the Vocational School fire in 1983, and the huge fire that took most of Everett Square as well.
However, it was a house fire on Myrtle Street that he said he would never forget – a fire that took the life of one of his men, Tony Conti.
“That was back in 1988 and it was the hardest day on this job, losing a man in my company,” he said in 2016. “I was a captain and one of my men got killed at the fire. It was on Myrtle Street and was actually across the street from Tony’s house. That was one of the hardest days.”
His job as chief was also was transformed by the events of 9/11 – taking the Everett Fire Department from a service that simply fought fires, to one that has to be prepared for terrorist attacks on major infrastructure in Everett’s industrial port. Chief Butler was widely known, and locally revered, for successfully transforming the fire service in that way.
Among many accolades and achievements throughout his career, Chief Butler was named Firefighter of the Year in 1985, was invited to speak internationally numerous times as an expert on LNG safety, and twice earned gubernatorial appointments, most notably as a member of the prestigious Commonwealth of Massachusetts Fire Service Commission. In his retirement, David served as Executive Director of Metrofire, working alongside the chiefs of Metro Boston fire departments, a group to which he attributes much of his success as chief and so many great friendships in his retirement. Among his lesser known qualities was the fact that – like many firefighters who have spent years in a fire house – he was a very good cook and enjoyed cooking for his family