SCHENECTADY — Raymond Senecal was a decade into a career working on heating and cooling systems when he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Schenectady city firefighter.
It was a career that always interested him and he figured if things didn’t work out, he could return to his previous career.
But after acing the civil service exam, Senecal was hired by the department in 1989 and never looked back. Instead, he quickly rose through the ranks until Mayor Gary McCarthy tapped him to be chief eight years ago.
Since then, Senecal has made it his mission to leave the department better than he found it, spearheading a number of initiatives aimed at bolstering the safety for the department’s firefighters and paramedics, while finding new ways to better serve the community.
But the 59-year-old is quick to credit those around him — from union leadership, City Hall, fire administrators and the men and women that make up the department’s ranks — for the department’s accomplishments under his tenure as chief.
“I’ve been fortunate to have good relationships with good people,” Senecal said. “I’ve been very fortunate, because without good people to work with, nothing really works.”
After nearly 33 years with the Schenectady Fire Department, Senecal is set to retire Friday.
It will mark the first time a Raymond Senecal hasn’t worked for the Schenectady Fire Department since the 1960s, when Senecal’s father, Capt. Raymond M. Senecal, began his 33-year career with the department.
But with just days until he is set to walk out of the department’s Veeder Avenue headquarters for the final time, the youngest Senecal firefighter admitted he grappled with retirement for about a year.
Being a firefighter is in his blood, he said, and he’ll miss the camaraderie and spending the time with the 117 members that make up the department, who he said are like a second family.
But knowing each day that his work is making a difference is what Senecal said is what he will miss the most.
“We help people. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I believe in,” he said.
Senecal is planning to spend time with his elderly parents and catching up with his wife and three sons, who he said have taken a backseat to his job, which required him to be on duty seven days a week.
Outdoor recreation activities, like snowmobiling, are also on deck.
Senecal said that last eight years have been the most difficult of his career, but credits those who came before him for instilling in him the values and foundation he needed to be successful.
He said he approached the job with an open mind and tried his best to be fair and collaborative and acted only with the best interest of the department and community in mind.
“My focus as the chief of the department when I took the job was to make the fire department as efficient and as safe as I could for the men and women on the job, and also the citizens, because if we’re better at what we do, it only makes it safer for them,” Senecal said.
During his time as chief, the department was able to secure new fire apparatus’ and a second set of turnout gear, allowing firefighters to respond to multiple incidents in a day without the fear of breathing in carcinogens or being weighed down by wet gear.
The department also acquired ballistic vests and helmets and created an active shooter and hazardous material response teams that can respond to incidents throughout the county within minutes.
More recently, the department launched a telemedicine program, the first in the Capital Region, allowing paramedics to provide medical attention from afar.
But while Senecal is quick to credit those around him for the department’s recent advances, those who have worked alongside him said the department’s accomplishments are indicative of his leadership.
“He has good people around him, but if he didn’t win their respect, those good people may not have followed him,” said Assistant Chief Don Mareno. “They follow him because, yes, they are good people, and they see and believe in what the chief is trying to do.
“They trust him and they respect him.”
Mareno said Senecal lead by example, noting that the chief has remained in good physical condition and has trained on every new piece of equipment even though his job didn’t require him to. Senecal also took the time to get to know those around him on a personal level and would go out of his way to ask about family and other aspects of life, Mareno said.
“He set the bar high,” Mareno said.
McCarthy, meanwhile, said he has yet to select Senecal’s replacement and expects to make a decision in the coming weeks.
He noted that the department is full of a number of qualified individuals, which he said is a testament to Senecal’s leadership.
Asked if he had any regrets looking back on his career, Senecal said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I know you’ve seen it quoted, but there’s an old saying that says that the fire department have the best job in the world,” he said. “I still think that. I still think it’s the best job in the world. I really do. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. And it’s been a great career.”
A walk-out ceremony will be held for Senecal Friday at 10 a.m. at the Schenectady Fire Department Headquarters, located at 360 Veeder Ave.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.