Monday, August 11, 2008

On Fire

On fire: Volunteer firefighters Tilley, Painchaud burn up the basepaths in the ITL

By Dom Nicastro / Correspondent

Hamilton - One minute, Justin Tilley and Andre Painchaud are on Vitale Field at Patton Park, helping Hamilton’s Intertown Baseball League team beat Topsfield.

The next, they’re in Painchaud’s black Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, bombing out of Patton Park and over to the town’s fire station across the street. They finished that night battling flames at the Indigo Bar & Grill in South Hamilton.

Such is life for Hamilton’s firefighters/adult-league baseball players. Their eyes glued to the baseball, their ears close to their radios on the bench.

Tilley, 24, and Painchaud, 23, both Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School graduates, spent this summer ready to hit curveballs and anything else thrown at them as young firefighters for Hamilton’s volunteer department.

“It’s just like baseball,” Painchaud said about being prepared as a firefighter. “You have to be on top of your game. You can’t have an 0-for-4 day fighting a fire or you’re going to get yourself or your guys killed.”

Hamilton helpers

The ITL baseball season certainly isn’t life or death. Nevertheless, Tilley and Painchaud certainly did their parts to help Hamilton to a fourth-place finish and a spot in the playoffs. The Generals beat first-place Ipswich, 6-2, Monday night in the opening round of the four-team playoff. (Game 2, played in Hamilton Tuesday night, finished after press time).

Tom Jones, Hamilton’s player/manager, said each of the firefighters plays just about every position. He called them “two of the team's most versatile players.”

Painchaud worked his way into the every-day lineup at first base, “becoming one of the best in the league in my opinion,” Jones said.

He had two hits and two RBI against Ipswich Monday.

“Not only does he help out all our infielders at first, he can bat anywhere in the lineup,” Jones added. “When people are away on vacation or just missing games I can insert Andre anywhere in the lineup without complaint. It is not easy to switch around as often as he does, but he takes every opportunity to perform his best and help the team in anyway he can.”

Tilley is a defensive standout who perhaps excels in the middle infield, Jones said.

“Justin is a great teammate and has a great attitude about baseball that rubs off on everyone,” Jones said. “Justin shows up most days probably not knowing exactly where he will be in the lineup, but he has the ability to go with the flow and contribute to the team in many different ways. A player like Justin is invaluable to our team, and I think all his teammates realize all that he brings to the table. A player like him is rare in the league. I bet all the other teams wish they had someone like him.”

The call to duty

Painchaud pretty much has been with the Hamilton fire department since graduating from high school in 2003. He is one of 34 on-call paid firefighters. He also works full-time in the town’s water department. The department has four full-time firefighters.

Painchaud said he wants to be a full-time firefighter but is waiting for the right time and right place.

For now, he is exactly where we wants to be – fighting fires and helping people get through some of the worst times of their lives. He fought fires at the 2006 Thanksgiving Eve chemical plant explosion that rocked Danvers.

“You almost have to take yourself a step back sometimes,” Painchaud said. “You’re running into a house, and people’s whole lives are going up in flames. At the chemical plant, people are running around like crazy. Their house just blew up, and you do what you have to do. If they want to talk to you, you talk to them.”

Tilley came on later than his firefighting partner did. He started early last year after going to college and finding nothing “I was passionate about.”

“I wanted to find something I wanted to do, and that’s being a firefighter,” Tilley said.

Tilley actually has a spot as a full-time firefighter this summer. Otherwise, he paints and is on-call. He took the state civil service exam and is anxious to find a permanent full-time position.

“The satisfaction in this job is when everybody from the firefighters to the people returns home safe,” Tilley said. “When you see the looks on peoples’ faces when you’ve done something for them, that’s priceless.”

Dan Parsons, Hamilton’s deputy chief firefighter, said the pair is a welcome addition to the staff. A 23-year firefighter, Parsons said the first few years are crucial for a firefighter; Painchaud and Tilley adapted just fine, he said.

“They’re great firefighters,” Parsons said. “They’re always willing to learn and are not afraid of anything.”

Such as leaving Vitale Field and getting into Painchaud’s Silverado for a date with flames.

“Your heart is just racing at a time like that,” Tilley said. “You’re thinking about what you have to do when you get there. It’s crazy. There’s nothing like it.”