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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: David Simon

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, January 29, 2006

North Adams Fire Department Fire Educator and firefighter David Simon
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshire resident whose actions contribute to the Berkshires' way of life.

North Adams – Be it family, community, or employment, David Simon could easily be described as someone who gives his all.

Simon, 46, of Union St., is a 19-year, full-time veteran firefighter with the city’s fire department. He is a familiar face throughout the city’s schools as “Fireman Dave,” the fire educator who handles the NAFD Student Awareness of Fire Education program, and he is gaining recognition as a force behind the Fire Education for Older Citizens program.

"I Am Not Alone Here"

During a Jan. 28 interview at the city’s fire station, it became clear that Simon views himself as more spoke than wheel.

“I’m not the only guy in this building,” he said. “I’m not the only guy doing this job. Without the support of the guys who are here and the firemen’s union, there’d be nothing. I may be the face that people see but that’s because I’m the guy that doesn’t mind sticking my face out there. I am not alone here.”

Simon is active outside of the fire education arena as well; he is an outreach educator with the “Wise Guys” program, which focuses on thoughtful decision-making sessions for male youth aged 11-17 and generates discussion about sexual abstinence, family and personal values, pregnancy prevention, teen parenting, and other topics. Simon’s wife Sheri is involved in a similar program titled “Wise Girls.”

He and his wife are active members of the region’s Mill City Productions theater troupe, and both appeared onstage during a recent production of “HONK! The Musical.”

Simon served during the mid-1990s as a Child Assault Prevention Program outreach educator. He was also a “TV Camp” camp counselor from 1996-98, and a Silvio O. Conte Drop-In center volunteer from September to July in 2001 and 2003.

Simon owns and operates “Simon Sez” disc jockey service with his wife, whom he married in 1984. He is a parent to stepson Peter Simon, 27, and daughters Sarah, 20, and 17-year-old Mollie Simon.

Simon is also an active member of the St. John’s Episcopal Church on Summer Street.

He is a city native who didn’t leave the community during the difficult economic challenges of the 1980s and 1990s. And he is proud to be a married man, he said.

“First and foremost, I am Sheri’s husband,” Simon said. “I was her husband before I was a firefighter and I will be her husband long after I am no longer a firefighter. She has done a lot for the family, and me, and I can never thank her enough. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Neighborhood Kid

He grew up as a Greylock neighborhood kid, he said, and smiled broadly as he recalled his Isbell Street upbringing.

“My mom and dad [Lorraine and Herman Simon] were divorced and I was raised by my mom,” Simon said. “I lived on Isbell Street over in Greylock and we all just nicknamed it ‘the project.’ It was a great place to grow up; there were lots of families and lots of kids to play with.”

There was abundant ingenuity and camaraderie as well, according to Simon.

“There were tons of friends and everybody helped everybody else,” he said. “For instance, suppose somebody didn’t have a bike. Back then, it was important to have a bike so you could get from one house to the other. We’d figure out ways to build one. Somebody might have an old frame, somebody else might have a couple tires, a chain…by the end of the day, there’d be a bike, for me or whoever needed one.”

According to Simon, until he reached his teen-aged years, “the West End variety store to Brayton School, that was my world.”

“It was all I needed,” he said.

Parochial to Public And Back

Raised as a Catholic, Simon attended the former Holy Family parochial school until the school closed, and then he was enrolled at the former Notre Dame school. He was still in elementary school when Notre Dame closed, and he was then sent to his first public school, the Greylock School. Simon then moved up to what was then called the Brayton Junior High School.

Once he’d completed the eighth grade, he enrolled as a high school freshman at the former, city-based St. Joseph’s parochial school – and then that school closed as well. Simon enrolled at Drury High School during its’ last years as a high school on East Main Street, and graduated from the school in 1977, after the mid-1970s opening of the current building on South Church Street.

“I still have my old ‘New Drury Now’ button,” Simon said with a chuckle.

Shifting from parochial to public schools was challenging, Simon said.

“I think it was hard and I’m sure that I missed a few things by going to different schools so much,” he said. “But I also got to meet a lot of people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Even today, my kids say ‘you know everybody.’ Switching schools had pluses and minuses.”

"That's What I Want To Do"

Simon said that he remembers an incident that sparked his decision to become a fireman. His mother called the fire department after an electric stove malfunctioned, and Simon said that he remembers seeing the trucks pull up to the family home and the firefighters jump into action.

“I was sitting on the stairs – I bet I was 10 or 12 years old- and I said to myself ‘that’s what I want to do,” Simon said.

Firefighters were included among the family friendship circle, Simon said; his youngest brother’s godfather was former city Fire Chief Albert Denelli, who recently passed away, and former firefighter Arthur St.Pierre was a family friend. Simon also was acquainted with former city firefighter Sheldon Field, the father of Simon’s boyhood chums Bruce and Peter Field.

His interest continued through his high school years and when Simon was a senior, a city firefighter delivered a career presentation during a Drury-hosted job fair, Simon said.

“And that sealed it for me,” he said.

Simon enrolled in a Berkshire Community College fire science curriculum soon after high school graduation and completed 56 of the 60 credits necessary to earn a community college degree. He passed a firefighter’s examination in 1977 and was subsequently sworn in as a city permanent reserve fireman by then Mayor Richard C. Lamb.

Cook, Baker, Band Member

And once sworn in as a reserve fireman, Simon said that he never saw the inside of the city fire station until Mayor John Barrett III appointed him a permanent full-time fireman in 1987.

His pre-firefighter jobs included morning cook at the former Capitol Restaurant on Main Street, baker and then bakery manager at the Price Chopper supermarket, pastry chef and breakfast and lunch cook at the former North Adams Inn, and a baker at the Cedars of Lebanon bakery, Simon said. He ultimately found employment in 1982 at the former Sprague Electric Co., and was among those affected when the company closed its’ city doors. He worked part-time for the H.A. George Fuel Company from 1987 to 2000, he said.

A musical talent also offered employment opportunity; Simon ran stage lights for the regionally popular 1980s’ Skylar Steel band and accompanied the band members with his harmonica as an onstage presence.

Finally A Firefighter

He was married and a father when the firefighter job was offered, Simon said.

“I had a terrific job at Sprague and then they closed everything up,” he said. “Then the city called and said ‘hey, you have a job,’ and I was sworn in. It was the last thing that I was expecting. I had almost forgotten that I was on the reserve list.”

As the 1990s progressed, fire safety and education became a priority at the state level. The state Fire Marshall’s Office developed an idea for a curriculum, and former city Fire Director Craig Rougeau approached Simon about the program, Simon said.

“He said ‘I want you to see what you can do with this,’” Simon said.

Simon accepted the task, wrote curriculum, and has instructed burn prevention and fire escape techniques to pre-kindergarten through high school students. He is among the firefighters who work with a Berkshire County Fire Safety House. In 2004, he was named among the Top 20 Fire and Life Safety Educators within the state; in 2005, he was named as a top five runner-up for a Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award. The award is presented by the state Department of Fire Services.

Fire education and prevention endeavors are becoming more and more prevalent across the state and the country, Simon said.

“We could have a legacy of education to pass to new firefighters,” he said. “If a house is not on fire, our most important job is education. I think everyone learned from 9/11 [Sept. 11, 2001], you have to be prepared.”

The work has taken a bit of a toll; Simon said that at one point, he found himself spending enormous amounts of time away from home and family, and “it kind of came back and bit me.”

Keeping The Home Fires Burining

“I’ve been re-arranging priorities,” Simon said. “The one thing to remember is my wife did not marry a firefighter, that’s not what I was doing when we got married. And family is first. Sheri has dedicated her life to me. It sounds kind of old-fashioned, and she is kind of a feminist, but that’s what she did. She said that the kids wouldn’t be coming home to an empty house, and she didn’t work full-time. And we did without. We were a one-car family until about three years ago.”

There are rewards as well, Simon said. He credited the emphasis on family for the accomplishments and goals of Peter, Sarah, and Mollie.

Everything and More

Accomplishing his own career goal is satisfying, he said.

“Being a fireman is everything I thought it would be and more,” Simon said. “There were some good men here when I came on with a lot of common sense. When I first came on the job I got pulled into a lot of fires and learned a lot of things that the schooling at BCC would have never taught me.”

And when told that his life’s resume seems to include almost every aspect of community service as well as career and family achievement, Simon took a pass on any personal praise.

“It seems like a lot,” he said. “But I’m not the guy doing everything. The guys here do a lot and my wife has been there for the family when I couldn’t be. It’s not all ‘Firefighter Dave,’ not at all.”

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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