Harry Chesnulevich: They Don’t Make Them Like Him Anymore
October 6, 2017
by David S. Morin
For over four decades when the fire alarm rang, Deputy Chief Harry Chesnulevich would drop whatever he was doing and respond to assist the residents of Hudson. Recently, Harry was recognized by the New Hampshire Fire Service & Emergency Medical Services Committee of Merit.
As a boy, Harry was intrigued by the fire service. He would visit the Nashua Fire stations where he grew up and got to know the men there. Soon he would ride along on the truck to the many brush fires that took place back in those days and help battle these fires. These satisfied some of his need to serve as a firefighter.
After high school he joined the Navy, but the thrill of the fire scene did not leave him. While in Norfolk, Va., he came upon a large fire burning near the base. He stayed and watched as the city firefighters battled the flames to bring the fire under control.
After leaving the Navy, he served for a time as a Hudson police officer and became friendly with the Hudson firefighters. It did not take long before he stepped down from the police department and signed up with the town’s fire department.
On July 1, 1956, Harry’s dream came true and he became a Hudson firefighter. From that time on he never looked back. He never served as a full-time member of the department as the pay was not enough to support his large family. His time was as a volunteer and call firefighter responding to fires on his own time on nights, weekends, or other available time while working a full-time job in Nashua.
In 1973, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant; then in 1977 he moved up to the rank of captain and retired as the call department deputy chief in 2000.
Through his career he responded to some very large and some tragic blazes. He responded to the Alvirne High School fire, a fire on Main Street in Nashua where, on the arrival of Hudson crews, the building was filled with heavy thick smoke. As he and other firefighters entered an upper floor they found a group of men holding a card game totally unaware of the danger they were in. In 1987, even after 30-plus years fighting fires, Harry was not one to stay behind. A nine-alarm fire took place in Lowell, Mass., in a group of mill buildings and Hudson firefighters were called to help. Hudson crews were ordered to one of the buildings, but due to the fire conditions, stairways were not available. Harry led his crew, including this reporter, up a 50-foot wooden ladder, which bounced back and forth several feet in and out as the firefighters climbed it. The crew reached the roof and still could not get into the building. The deputy dropped down through a hole in the roof and constructed a makeshift platform for the rest of the crew to climb down into the building.
In 1964, he responded to a tragic fire that took the life of a child and injured several more. The night of the fire the roads were icy, slowing the response, and when firefighters arrived, the father told them that his five children were still in the home. Heavy fire involved the first floor of the home and crews could not enter. Ladders were placed to the windows of the second floor for firefighters to make a search. Under heavy fire and smoke conditions, four of the injured children were quickly found unresponsive. Harry and other firefighters removed them from the building. A 9- year-old girl that died was found in a second bedroom and could not be revived. One firefighter was injured during the rescue operation. In 2000, he and the other firefighters who worked to save the children received the department’s Rescue Medal for their action taken on that night.
After he hung up his helmet he was not done helping the department. He served as a member of the board of directors for the Hudson Firefighters Relief Association for many years stepping down from the position only last year. Today he still makes his weekly visits to the Hudson Station to check on the crews.
At the ceremony held in Concord on Sept. 25, many of his family members and Hudson firefighters were on hand when he was presented the Years of Service Pin, which honors those who have dedicated themselves to the NH Fire Service for 40 or more years, an award of which he is very proud.
Spanning 44 years, Harry’s dedicated and faithful service to the Town of Hudson most likely won’t be topped, as they no longer make them like him anymore.