By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – As the fire chief for the Shrewsbury Fire Department, James M. Vuona bears a lot of responsibility at the firehouse and in the Shrewsbury community. He credits the dedication, hard work and camaraderie of his fellow firefighters and staff for the success of the department.
Having grown up in Shrewsbury, Vuona made his way back home after graduating from college with a history degree. He was an athlete in high school and, after catching up with some of his high school friends, decided to join a baseball team. Half of the team was made up of firefighters.
“My interest in the fire department grew out of playing baseball with the firefighters in town. They thought I was a pretty good athlete and thought I would make a good firefighter. I decided to take the Civil Service test offered through the state. It was the best decision I made and I have never looked back,” Vuona said.
He spent around nine years as a firefighter, eight years as a captain, and in 2010 became chief. In this role, Vuona is responsible for the supervision of the officers and all other personnel, making recommendations for hiring, managing programs, inspections, fire prevention programs, community outreach and public education in the schools.
“In a way, that’s sometimes difficult for the public to see. It’s the time spent educating people, preventing fires, that doesn’t show up as really making an impact because everyone looks at firefighting as putting out the fire. We try to educate people on smoking because careless disposal of cigarettes is still one of the number one causes of fires in the state,” Vuona explained.
One of the things that Vuona enjoys most about his job is that he is able to affect the community every single day. Whether it’s with an emergency medical call, car accident or broken water pipe in a home, the members of the fire department help the public on a daily basis.
“I’m a big customer service guy. The public provides our salary and we provide a service,” he said.
He also credits the fact that his firefighters are all team players. In the department, everyone works in teams so cooperation is a key ingredient to the efficiency of how the fire department is run.
When he is not at the firehouse, Vuona enjoys coaching, spending time with his family, listening to all kinds of music and being a DJ, which he did in college on radio station WHJY in Providence, R.I. He got back into the business about 12 years ago.
“My mobile DJ business is called ‘Mr. Bigz Music Machine.’ The guys at the firehouse gave me that nickname when I got promoted to be the captain. The name stuck. It’s something I really enjoy doing,” he said.
He is currently working on a proposed Tri-Town Fire Department Training Center, which has already been approved from the Town Hall. There have been discussions between Northborough and Westborough’s fire departments and both have shown great interest.
“We already have a $5,000 commitment from a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner and we will need to raise $25,000 to build this facility,” Vuona noted.
He is also looking to expand the department and wants to hire a deputy chief to handle fire prevention.
Vuona lives in Shrewsbury with his wife, Heather, a maternity nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center and his son Tim, a senior at St. John’s High School. His son Michael, 24, graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and his daughter, Raeann, graduated from Northern University in Ohio and will begin a Master’s Degree program in human development and educational psychology at Harvard University in a few weeks.