Alex Northern has been on the job as Norwich fire chief for about two months now, and at 54, he believes he's in the right role in the right place. Which is not to say he took a direct route to get there.
I stopped by Tuesday afternoon to introduce myself and ask a few questions.
First, I asked him to describe his job in one sentence.
"My work in one sentence, I would say is public service," he said. "More specifically, it’s an emergency and all-hazards response."
Next I asked him to tell the story of how he came to work and live in Norwich. His answer was rich and as he put it, "a little bit circuitous." So I'm going to summarize:
-- He grew up in Hanover, where he hung out at the fire house and became an EMT. "I just enjoyed the atmosphere. I enjoyed the camaraderie. I enjoyed the mission. Just like a lot of young men, I loved fire trucks. I loved the excitement, that kind of thing."
-- His family moved to Norwich in the mid-80s. Meanwhile, he covered a lot of ground.
-- He got a fire science degree in Maryland.
-- He worked as a firefighter in Washington, D.C.
-- He went to UConn, then to New York University for graduate school in public administration and policy.
-- He worked for four years in New York.
-- He moved to South Royalton in 2000 to attend Vermont Law School.
-- He worked in the Windsor County Court diversion program and in mental health.
-- He went back to Maryland to serve as a magistrate.
-- He returned to teach fire science, most recently at Vermont Tech.
-- He worked as a call firefighter in Hartford.
-- When the Norwich fire chief's position opened up, he applied. He had long wanted to be a chief, and Norwich? "This was always home for me," he said.
Finally, I asked him to share something people would be surprised to learn about him.
"I was a tour guide at the United Nations during grad school," he said. "It was fun. You had to speak two languages. I speak German. We all wore Bill Blass designed uniforms. No matter what people talk about the UN, when you’re there, there’s a certain amount of prestige, and a real sense of being in a special place, because the UN is international territory -- it doesn’t belong to the U.S. My colleagues were from all over the world, and I really enjoyed that."