Haverhill Fire Chief Laliberty to Retire in January; Says Updating Department was Most Rewarding

Haverhill Fire Chief William F. Laliberty before city councilors in 2019. (WHAV News file photograph.)

After 34 years as a Haverhill firefighter and four and a half years as chief, William F. Laliberty is retiring at the end of January.

The chief entered and leaves the department on about the same schedule as two aging Hahn fire engines he worked to replace during the last year. In fact, Laliberty told WHAV that keeping the department up to date was one of the most rewarding duties he performed as fire chief.

“For me, for being a chief, it’s serving the community, but my firefighters—trying to get them the tools, equipment and things that made their job better,” he explained.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini agreed Laliberty moved the forward. “He’s really turned the fire department around. He’s brought up the equipment. He’s fixed over the stations. He’s calmed the department down quite a bit,” the mayor said.

Asked to reflect on his time in the department, Laliberty said a blaze in the Washington Street Historic District that took out six buildings came when he had been on the job only two years. “I would say the worst fire would have been the downtown fire back in ’89—February 11 of ’89,” he noted.

A year later, the chief began taking part in the state’s Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Division. He said it is a role that was transformed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Over the 30 years because of the way the world goes and changes and so forth, we’ve gone into bioterrorism and now help the law enforcement world with testing and making it safe on the fentanyl issue,” he explained.

The chief added hazmat teams were originally founded to address industrial and transportation accidents. The anthrax white powder scare that followed 9/11 and today’s COVID-19 pandemic caused their roles to morph into safety, testing and tech support.

Tim Carroll, president of Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011, asked in a letter last week that the fire chief’s job be filled from within. “We strongly believe there are worthy and qualified candidates within the Haverhill Fire Department who could easily fill this vacancy,” he wrote.

Fiorentini acknowledged he will use an outside assessment center to field candidates and will receive input from former interim Fire Chief John E. Parow. The mayor would not commit to hiring in-house as he has in the past with Laliberty and late Chief Richard B. Borden.

Laliberty backed the union position, saying a veteran firefighter who has served more than two decades knows the community best.

Currently, department deputy chiefs are Eric Tarpy, Douglas Brown, Robert O’Brien, Jeffrey Akstin and Raymond Robinson.

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