Coast Guard career a boon for Saugus firefighter

SAUGUS – Just like every U.S. Marine is taught to shoot a rifle, every member of the Navy and Coast Guard learns to put out fires. After all, if the ship is burning, the only chance of survival lay in bringing the flames under control.So when Alex Watton joined the Saugus Fire Department last summer, he was already familiar with many of the skills needed to become part of the crew aboard Engine 1 at the Essex Street fire station.After four months of on-the-job instruction and three months of recruit basics at the Massachusetts Fire Fighting Academy in Stow, Watton last Friday graduated with Firefighter I and II certifications and rejoined his fellow jakes. His was the 190th class to graduate from the state-of-the-art facility.On Monday, Watton, 26, was working at the firehouse with Lt. Eric Hansen and firefighter Stephen Rea, waiting for the bell to ring on his first fire since leaving the academy. He already received his baptism by fire last August on what was his second day on the job. But he hadn’t been fully trained to do everything that needs doing at a fire scene.Born and raised in Saugus, Watton hails from a long line of Coast Guardsmen ? four generations to be exact.His father, Daniel, was a lieutenant commander stationed in Boston. His late grandfather, Alexander, was a Coast Guard petty officer in California. And his great grandfather on his mother’s side, the late Michael Bono, was a bosun’s mate.A photograph on the wall of the family home shows the three elder Coasties together and Watton hopes to add his visage to the mix.A 2002 Saugus High School graduate, Watton joined the Coast Guard soon after earning his diploma. He completed Coast Guard boot camp at Cape May, N.J., served at a small boat station on New York’s Long Island and later received electrician’s mate training in Yorktown, Va. Upon reassignment to Boston, he joined the crew of the USCG Cutter Seneca, where he spent four years acquiring an array of different skills. A stint with a support unit in Newport, R.I. followed, as did eventual discharge from the military as a Petty Officer First Class, which led Watton to the Fire Department.Upbeat and personable, Watton is clearly glad to be a Saugus firefighter. When not on duty, he plays hockey or tries his luck at saltwater fishing when the tide turns in the Saugus River. His brother, Jeff, is a student at Northeastern University. His sister, Tara, is a mom whose 4-year-old son Jake could one day carry on the family’s Coast Guard legacy.”I like spending time with my family and my nephew. We’re already working on him,” said Watton.Fire Chief James Blanchard described Watton was a good hire because of his extensive Coast Guard training.”We were losing a guy who transferred to Massport’s fire department, so the slot opened up. I can tell you we were glad about Alex’s background. He was team leader aboard the Seneca. He was already using the same Scott (air) packs that we use. He had experience with a thermal imager, was trained in Hazmat (hazardous materials) and has lots of small boat handling skills,” said the chief. “He had all of that before he even came to us, so it was a really good package.”Blanchard emphasized every member of the Navy and Coast Guard is trained to fight shipboard fires, a plus for those who want to pursue a firefighting career.Including Watton, the town now has 40 firefighters.

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