New Fire Chief ‘Starting Off on Solid Ground’

April 2, 2024
Bedford Fire Department Chief James Bailey. Courtesy Image

Bedford’s new fire chief knows quite a bit about working in antiquated surroundings.

“The facilities in Arlington were built in the early ’20s and all completely renovated between 2008 and 2015,” related James Bailey, who joined the Fire Department in that town 27 years ago. “They were originally built for horse-drawn equipment. The basements had old coal stalls.”

Bailey, now in his second month at the helm in Bedford, joined the Fire Station Building Committee soon after the Historic District Commission approved a conditional certificate of appropriateness for building a fire station at 139 The Great Road.

“I like the look of it,” he said of architectural renderings. “I think it will blend well with the Historic District, although there will be aspects that stick out because it is a firehouse.”

Meanwhile, the chief has settled into the town’s 1940s department headquarters at 55 The Great Road, where he has discovered the “real nice convenience” of the walkable central campus.

Bailey, 55, said in a recent interview that he finds department personnel “motivated, very professional, very eager. They love doing their job. They want to work for the citizens of the town. And that makes my job a lot easier.

“I’m starting off on solid ground, with a great relationship going forward,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve, but it hasn’t been in any way disruptive or adversarial.”

For the past 13 years, Bailey was a deputy chief in Arlington, and was also a member of the district hazardous materials team. He holds a master’s degree in public administration and spent 20 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, including three deployments.

Bailey was inaugurated two months ago as Bedford Fire Chief. Courtesy Image

“I never started out thinking I would be a firefighter,” said Bailey, who grew up in Rockland. “I was a history major at the University of New Hampshire, and my first job out of school was as a teaching assistant working in a group setting with autistic children.” That was at the New England Center for Autism in Southborough, where his then-future wife was also on the staff. 

Bailey had joined the Marine Corps Reserve as an undergraduate, heading for boot camp after freshman year and fulfilling his weekend drill obligations during the academic year. A military experience was “something I always had an interest in doing,” Bailey said, noting that one grandfather fought in Guadalcanal and an uncle was a Vietnam veteran. “I grew up with their stories round me.”

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bailey was assigned to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Initially an 81-millimeter mortarman, he became a warrant officer in 2000 with a specialty of nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, training Marines how to fight in those environments.

He spent a year in Okinawa and in 2006 was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, for seven months as a personal security detail officer, escorting the battalion commander and visiting dignitaries. He retired after 20 years in the Marine Reserves.

In 1996, Bailey related, friends in the Marine Corps suggested he take the civil service examination. The results were favorable, and a year later, he joined the Arlington Fire Department.

“Military experience and firefighting are very compatible. Both are team-oriented, mission-directed work, closely working with people,” the chief observed. “The planning is very similar – how do we attack a problem?” 

Bailey and his wife Laurie, a preschool teacher, reside in Wilmington. They have three grown children, two of whom are teachers.

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