WELLS, Maine — “Chief Vetre answered his final alarm and was called to higher service on Friday, July 5, 2019. Chief, you have completed your mission here. You have been a good friend to all. We will remember all that you have taught us in the three short years that you were our chief. You have fought the good fight, and now it is time to rest. You will be missed by all who were blessed to have known you. Chief Vetre, we have the watch, we’ll take it from here.”
Audible sobs from family, friends and fellow firefighters from Connecticut and Maine followed the last call for Wells Fire Chief Wayne Vetre at his funeral service held Friday morning at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wells.
Vetre, 57, died last Friday after a year-long battle with lung cancer. Diagnosed last August, Vetre, a dedicated firefighter and tireless leader, was working from his hospital room in Boston, Massachusetts, just days before his death, Wells Town Manager Jonathan Carter said.
Vetre was a career firefighter serving in East Haven and Guilford, Connecticut from 1993 to his retirement in 2016. In 2016 he told his wife, Jackie Belmonte, that he wanted to serve as a fire chief somewhere in his retirement. He found the right fit in Wells, she said.
The pair married in June and moved to Wells in September, 2016 where Vetre took the helm as fire chief, emergency management director and Wells ocean rescue director.
“The town of Wells had the privilege of having Wayne Vetre serve as our fire chief. He saw his dreams of being the chief of a fire department come true. Chief Vetre was the fire chief any city or town would hire in a minute. He was a mentor, a manager, an instructor and a leader who was trusted and followed. He was constantly trying to improve the department,” Carter said.
His wife spoke during the funeral service saying while she came late to the firefighting world, she was learning, especially this week, what it means to be a part of the firefighter’s family.
“I had no idea what to expect. Especially when it came to the time at work, or performing work related tasks. Wayne was fiercely committed to his job, working long hours, because work was Wayne’s passion. I also have just come to know what it means to be a part of the firefighting family. The show of love and support is overwhelming and I’m so grateful for that,” Belmonte said.
Dozens of firefighters from Guilford and East Haven, Connecticut, made the trip to Wells for Vetre’s funeral service, lining the entrance to the church in full dress uniform alongside firefighters from Wells and other York County communities. Police officers from the town of Wells were also in attendance to pay tribute to the chief.
Vetre and his wife were members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunk. His funeral service was moved to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was a larger venue. St. David’s Rev. Andrew D’Angio White officiated the service, remembering Vetre for his faithfulness and his “relentless commitment to life.”
White said when Vetre received his cancer diagnosis in August, he knew that there was a chance that it was a result of his work as a firefighter. He said his doctors told him, “Wayne, you can’t run into burning buildings anymore. Which tells you a lot about firefighters. Most doctors don’t need to tell people that. But Wayne understood the risk, and he continued his work as best he could, for as long as he could. You could call it dedication, and it is, but what I think it was, was faithfulness.”
Call Firefighter Jim Chadbourne read a letter from Captain Jeff Cullen, saying the chief was sincere, driven, and hard working to a fault.
“We soon learned that when it came to fires, you couldn’t pull enough signals, you couldn’t tear enough walls down, and you certainly couldn’t have enough water. We are pretty sure that every tanker in York County was called to Wells in the past three years, but most importantly all of the fires were put out, and we surely didn’t have to go back,” Chadbourne read.
Vetre was remembered by his crew for his caring ways — calling them when he knew they were going through hard times personally, attending funerals for their family members, and making sure they were all cared for emotionally after particularly tough calls.
Wells Police Chief Jo-Ann Putnam said it has been a difficult few months for everyone in the Wells Public Safety departments. Vetre worked alongside Putnam to help with the design and building of the new Wells Public Safety complex, which is nearing completion. Putnam said the Police Department put together a time capsule to be stored inside one of the walls a few weeks ago, and the Fire Department did theirs Friday, after the funeral. She’s not sure what is included, but knows it will pay homage to the chief.