061920 RIC barber honored

Richmond Town Council President Rich Nassaney, left, presents a plaque to DPW director and fire chief Scott Barber noting his 20 years of service to the town on Thursday. | Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

RICHMOND — Richmond Fire Chief and Director of Public Works Scott Barber was honored at the town hall Thursday with a plaque commemorating his 20 years of service to the town.

Town Council President Richard Nassaney said he had decided that it was time to honor Barber while he was still working for the town.

“I hate honoring people posthumously,” he said. “I think that they need to be thanked and recognized while they’re still here with us, because when they’re gone, they don’t know that they were valued and it’s really important for a town to recognize the people who do so much for the town.”

Looking back on his two decades serving the town, Barber said he felt that the time had passed quickly. Replacing Robert Kenyon, the former long-serving DPW director, presented Barber with his first major challenge.

“I really don’t know where the 20 years went because I can still remember my first day clearly,” he said. “I was 34 years old, I think, and I walked into this job replacing someone who was kind of an icon to the town and he left big shoes to fill, so there was a lot of doubt that I had the ability to carry on.”

The department has expanded from five employees, when Barber first took over, to nine. The town has also grown substantially over the past 20 years, requiring the department to expand its workload.

“There’s obviously been a lot of development, so we’ve taken on more roads and more work and now we’re pretty much maintaining some recreation areas that were never here when I came on, trying to keep up with maintenance on the town buildings and the police station," he said. "I mean, we run the transfer station now instead of it being an outside contract, so there’s more oversight there. The janitorial positions have been assigned to us and we’ve taken over upkeep with the grounds and everything.”

Natural disasters have presented their own special challenges to Barber and his team.

“I've seen hurricanes, tropical storms, superstorm Sandy, blizzards, the flood,” he said, referring to the floods of 2010. “The big flood was probably the biggest challenge that we had because there was two weeks straight that we never went home. We had four hours of down time and we kept manning pumps and trying to get some of the roads back open, so until we felt that we had things under control, we just stayed with it, and that really, really pushed us to the limit.”

Barber said he was grateful to have worked with a team of dedicated employees.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have good people around me,” he said. “I think that’s part of the success. We’ve had people come and go, but you always end up with quality people, so without having that behind you, you can’t be successful. It’s really a team concept.”

Barber, who usually shuns the limelight, had to be tricked into accepting the award, which was first revealed at a recent Town Council meeting.

Nassaney said he asked Barber to join the Zoom meeting under the pretext of resident inquiries regarding dead trees in the town.

“It was the only lie I’ve ever had to tell to Scott and it was hard for me to do it but I had to, because other than that, he wasn’t going to be at the meeting,” he said.

Barber said he had no idea that he was going to receive an award.

“So I’m getting all my notes together, thinking I’ve got all these questions I’m going to have to answer, and I almost kind of passed out when I found out that it wasn’t because I was in trouble,” he said. “I really thought that I had gotten in trouble and then, I was like, ‘Holy cow. Now I can breathe!’”

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