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First paid UConn fire chief honored for 32 years of service

By Julia Werth
On April 17, 2014

The University of Connecticut Fire Department honored its first paid fire chief, Chief Merrill Cummings, for his 32 years of service with the presentation of a Class A uniform at a ceremony Thursday.
Cummings had not had such a uniform since his retirement in 1978 when he was ordered to turn it in. Ever since, Cummings has declined fire department functions because he lacked the appropriate uniform.
UConn firefighters, past and present, worked together over the past months to raise $700, mostly in personal donations, to return Cummings' regalia, according to Lieutenant Christopher Renshaw.
Cummings' uniform is decorated with the five bugles on the collar and five bands around the wrist that denote his rank of chief.
"His breast badge bears the title of retired chief beneath the sheltering wings of an American bald eagle and upon the brim of his cap, rest the oak leaf embellishments worn only by the highest ranking officer," Renshaw said.
Cummings started work at the UConn Fire Department in August of 1946 after serving in the United States army for four years during World War II.
"Chief Cummings bore witness to horse trails becoming roads, pasture fields transforming to academic and research institutions, and Model T 'chemical wagons' transitioning to the modern firefighting apparatus you see in service before us today," Renshaw said.
Many of UConn's current fire fighters view Cummings as a role model and hero.
"Chief is a remarkable guy, and it is amazing to have such a piece of living history that we can talk with and hear old stories from," Lieutenant Heidi Vaughan said.
During Cummings' time at UConn, his department expanded greatly. At the start of his career, the department was composed of volunteer deans and faculty. By the time he retired, he was in command of 30 highly trained professionals in not only fire rescue, but emergency medical services and specialized rescue and hazmat incidents as well.

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