Crowd turns out to honor late Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding

Firefighters from over a dozen fire departments across Vermont and New Hampshire march in the funeral procession for longtime Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding, from Weathersfield Elementary School to Ascutneyville Cemetery in Ascutney, Vt., on Saturday, April 20, 2024. Spaulding, 59, a member of the fire service for over 40 years, served as Chief from 1995 until his passing on April 9. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Firefighters from over a dozen fire departments across Vermont and New Hampshire march in the funeral procession for longtime Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding, from Weathersfield Elementary School to Ascutneyville Cemetery in Ascutney, Vt., on Saturday, April 20, 2024. Spaulding, 59, a member of the fire service for over 40 years, served as Chief from 1995 until his passing on April 9. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America – Alex Driehaus

Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding, right, speaks to his firefighters about the structure and safety features of a Subaru after they practiced removing the roof to simulate the removal of a patient for training at Hodgdon Brothers salvage yard in Ascutney, Vt., on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Spaulding, who is also a forest fire warden for the Town of Weathersfield, said the volunteer fire department has fought one brush fire in town this year, but has served as mutual aid for several others. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding, right, speaks to his firefighters about the structure and safety features of a Subaru after they practiced removing the roof to simulate the removal of a patient for training at Hodgdon Brothers salvage yard in Ascutney, Vt., on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Spaulding, who is also a forest fire warden for the Town of Weathersfield, said the volunteer fire department has fought one brush fire in town this year, but has served as mutual aid for several others. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file

By ULLA-BRITT LIBRE

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-22-2024 7:01 PM

WEATHERSFIELD — An estimated 1,500 people filled the Weathersfield School gym for a funeral for Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding on Saturday.

Among those attending were Spaulding’s family members, firefighters in uniform, and others wishing to pay their respects. During the service, the firefighters saluted Spaulding’s body, and those gathered said a prayer for firefighters.

“I have met so many people last week that loved him. They just stopped to tell me stories about how they met Darrin and what Darrin did for them ... I had no idea how many lives he touched,” his sister, Michele Wright, said in an interview.

Spaulding died of a heart attack on April 9 at the age of 59. Born in Windsor on Feb. 9, 1965, Spaulding served on the Ascutney Fire Department for 44 years; he was chief for 29 years.

Firefighting runs in the Spaulding family. His father, Rodney, served as the chief of the Ascutney Fire Department before passing the reins to his son. By the age of 14, Spaulding would regularly accompany his father to the fire department, and by 16, he started volunteering for the department. Spaulding’s 16-year-old son, Jackson, now is a part of the junior cadet program.

Spaulding never missed a call, whether it be medical or mutual aid. “He’d get so excited when that alarm would go off ... he lived for the next call,” Wright said.

When he wasn’t at the fire department, Spaulding was self-employed as an electrician. If he got a call while working on a project, he would often take his own truck to respond to the site.

“His dedication to the fire service is monumental ... he probably spent at least an hour-plus every single day dealing with fire departments,” Claremont Fire Department Chief Andrew Stevens said in an interview.

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Stevens recalled a fire that occurred in Claremont a few years ago that Spaulding responded to faster than the Claremont Fire Department, because he was in the area and wanted to help.

“He was always there. He was the kind of person who would say ‘call me if you ever need a hand,’ and you know that when he said that, he meant it,” Stevens said.

The Ascutney Fire Department is volunteer-based, and Spaulding worked to create a firefighter community. He organized various fundraising events for the department, including a golf tournament and an annual yard sale.

“He was a phenomenal leader,” Mike Spackman, longtime friend of Spaulding’s and a member of the West Windsor Fire Department, said in an interview.

Those close to Spaulding reflected on the pride he took in helping others. Wright shared that her brother had a “big, big heart.”

“He would (always) worry about someone else more than himself,” said Spackman. “I don’t know how many times he came up to me and said, ‘What can I do next?’ ”

While he prioritized safety in the fire department, Spaulding also was known for his sense of humor and corny jokes.

“If you came out to your car and your windshield wipers were up, you knew Darrin had been by,” Wright said. “If you’d leave and you’d say, ‘See you later,’ he goes, ‘Glad you got to see me.’ ”

Spackman fondly recalled 40 years of Halloween pranks between their respective fire departments. One year, Spaulding dumped a truckload of rotten pumpkins into Spackman’s front yard. Another year, Spackman hung signs around the neighborhood that read: “Spaulding state park,” leading the general public to Spaulding’s front yard. “The best part was, people showed up!” Spackman remembered.

Like many Vermonters, Spaulding enjoyed hunting and fishing. He had a small-scale maple syrup business, and made sure to include the community in his hobbies.

He “would have the Girl Scouts over ... and open his door so everybody could come learn about (sugaring),” Wright said.

She reminisced about the times the family spent in Island Pond, Vt., when Spaulding would let his guard down, and the family would take the boat out, and “just have so much fun.”

Spaulding will be missed by the Ascutney community.

“He gave his life to the town,” said Theresa White, a family friend since before Spaulding was born. “The town can’t replace him.”

Following the service on Saturday, school buses shuttled attendees to Ascutneyville Cemetery for the burial. A select group of first responders made a final radio transmission in Spaulding’s honor.

Ulla-Britt Libre can be reached at ulla-britt.p.libre.25@dartmouth.edu.