By John Lynds
It’s been a stellar career for one of the longest serving Lynn firefighters. Chief James McDonald, who in 2013 became only the 18th fire chief in the department’s 168 year history, has served every position since starting his career 40 years ago. McDonald rose through the ranks and served as a firefighter, lieutenant, captain, district chief and deputy chief.
In October McDonald announced he would retire and at Tuesday night’s Lynn City Council meeting he was invited to address the Council. McDonald’s retirement will be effective on Jan. 27 at midnight.”
“It is my tremendous honor and pleasure to have had the opportunity to serve you as a fire chief for five years and to serve all the citizens of this great city. To have had the opportunity to witness some of the very best firefighters in the country from my 40 years on the job cannot ever be duplicated,” McDonald told the Council Tuesday night. “My entire adult life has been as a firefighter for the city and I do not regret one day of it. The memory of the events that I’ve been involved in … and the people that I have had a chance to interact with has had a profound effect on me. They are the building blocks for the person I have become and I’m very proud of that.”
McDonald closed saying he has strived throughout his career to do what is best for his firefighters and the citizens of Lynn.
The son of the late Eleanor (McGinn) and the late Tom McDonald, McDonald grew up with his father, grandfather and uncle in the Lynn Police Department and originally set his sights on becoming a police officer. After graduating from Lynn English in 1972, he took both the police and fire exams. His father, a vice squad detective, actually steered him in the direction of the fire department.
“After two weeks on the job, I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be,” McDonald told the Lynn Journal in 2013. “There were a lot of fires at the time, so we were very busy. I had the opportunity to go on the police force in Lynn and a few other places, but I turned them all down. It was the best decision I ever made.”
McDonald was driving Engine 5 out of Fayette Street when it was the first apparatus on the scene of the second Great Lynn Fire on Nov. 28, 1981. The fire ended up destroying 18 buildings and damaging eight others, and firefighters were on the scene for 16 days.
McDonald was also a first responder to the Ben Crest rooming house fire in 1989 in which three people died, but many others were saved.
McDonald was promoted to lieutenant in 1985, captain in 1996 and district chief in 2007. He was named acting deputy chief in January 2010 when Carmody was named acting chief, and served in that role for 19 months. He went back to district chief in August 2011 when Carmody became permanent chief, but because he and Carmody had tied for the top score on an assessment exam for chief in 2010, he remained at the top of the list for chief and the mayor selected him.
“He’s going to be missed. That’s what makes Lynn so great, 40 years of service,” Lynn City Council President Darren Cyr said of McDonald at the meeting. “Thanks, chief, for all your years of service and thank you to your family for allowing you to work all those years.”
Councilor Buzzy Barton, a former Lynn firefighter, commented that he worked on the same piece of apparatus with McDonald for for 20 years, and it was the best 20 years of his life.