Water in the veins

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By JASON STARR

You could say Jeff Bessette is following directly in his father’s footsteps as leader of Colchester Fire District No. 2’s water department. But the job has expanded since Norman Bessette ran things.

The district’s governing board recently hired Bessette to succeed longtime water administrator Dick Desautels. Bessette worked under Desautels for 15 years as a water system operator. Desautels succeeded Norman Bessette as water administrator in 1998.

Jeff Bessette flushes a hydrant last week at Colchester High School. Bessette started as Colchester Fire District No. 2 water administrator on Friday. (Photo by Jason Starr)

Jeff Bessette flushes a hydrant last week at Colchester High School. Bessette started as Colchester Fire District No. 2 water administrator on Friday. (Photo by Jason Starr)

The district provides water and fire protection to Malletts Bay neighborhoods.

Bessette’s association with the water district stretches to his youth, when he read meters and helped fix water line breaks under his father’s leadership. Norman Bessette was water superintendent from 1977 to 1997.

“I’m sure he would be proud,” Bessette said of his father, who died in 2003. “I’ve heard that from a lot of people.”

After his father retired, the job of leading the water department changed from “superintendent” to “administrator.” The transition added day-to-day decision-making, annual budgeting and managerial authority, taking pressure off the citizen governing board.

Today the district not only manages residential, commercial and government water customers, but also is contracted to maintain the water system of its neighboring water district to the north, Colchester Fire District No. 3.

Going from operator to administrator means more time in the office for Bessette. His role was to maintain meters, hydrants and water mains; read and install new meters and sample and test water. Now he’ll oversee the district’s two operators; the district is hiring for an operator to replace Bessette.

“It is going to be a change, but I feel good about it,” Bessette said. “If a water break happens, I’ll still be out there turning wrenches.”

Desautels plans to stay on sporadically through September to help Bessette’s transition. A former fire chief in Burlington, Desautels helped the Malletts Bay Fire Department as part of his job as water administrator.

Bessette is a former lieutenant with the Malletts Bay Fire Department, but he’s unsure about rejoining the force.

“[The board] asked me to join. I didn’t want to, but it’s something I would entertain,” Bessette said. “I wasn’t told that was a requirement.”

The board received six qualified applicants for the job, chairman Mike Whalen said. In addition to Bessette, another in-house applicant was Malletts Bay Fire Chief Steve Bourgeois.

“Jeff has more experience with the day-to-day functions of the water department,” Whalen said. “We have an expectation that he’ll help with fire calls during the day if needed. But his primary responsibility is to keep the water flowing.”