Fire Chief Wayne Vetre

Wayne Vetre realized a longtime goal when he became chief of the Wells Fire Department in 2016 after a distinguished 41-year career as a firefighter in Connecticut.

In three short years as Wells’ chief, Vetre made great strides in improving the department and public safety, city officials said, and he had hoped to accomplish much more.

Vetre died Friday after a three-year fight with lung cancer. He was 57.

His wife, Jacklyn Belmonte of Wells, broke down in tears Tuesday recalling a man who dedicated his life to the profession.

“He was selfless,” she said. “His priority was to do for others. He was truly a public servant.”

According to his obituary, Vetre began his firefighting career as a junior explorer in Guilford. He served as a firefighter in East Haven and Guilford from 1993 to 2001. He moved up the ranks to deputy fire marshal, fire investigator and pre-planner in Guilford. In 2005, he was named assistant fire chief, a position he held for 11 years.

Guilford Fire Chief Charles Herrschaft said Vetre had a major leadership role in the department, overseeing training and arson investigations, and securing several grants.

“He was a great firefighter and a great fire officer,” Herrschaft said. “It’s a great loss to the fire service.”

Vetre became fire chief in Wells in 2016 and oversaw the department’s emergency management program and water rescue services.

He worked with town officials to secure two tanker trucks and a new lead engine. He also advocated for new equipment and one additional firefighter and was active in the planning for the new Wells Public Safety Complex, which is expected to be completed in October.

Town Manager Jonathan Carter released a statement Tuesday expressing appreciation for Vetre’s service to the town.

“Chief Vetre was the fire chief that any town or city would hire in a minute,” Carter said. “Wells was fortunate to have him for three years. …”

Vetre was highly respected by firefighters in both Wells and Guilford. His wife said his goal as chief was to make them better firefighters. And he did.

“He was totally dedicated to the profession, especially so when he became chief here,” his wife said. “It was his reason for getting up in the morning. His priority was the residents and citizens of Wells. His concern was providing the best public safety to the residents of Wells, whatever that meant.”

Vetre was a loving father of two children, Stephanie Petrie, of Aurora, Colorado; and Wayne Vetre Jr. of Clinton, Connecticut. His son was recently promoted to a lieutenant with the New Haven Fire Department. His father attended the ceremony and pinned the badge on his son.

Vetre and his wife moved to Maine when he became chief. She reflected on their life together, recalling his love for the outdoors. She said he loved the mountains and taking long drives through New Hampshire and Vermont.

Vetre was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2018. His wife said at the time of his diagnosis, his prognosis looked good. She started sobbing.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, reflecting on her life without him. “I’ll miss his smile and seeing him. He had a great smile. When he was happy, he glowed. I’ll miss seeing that. He was my friend, my other half, my soulmate. This is an unbearable loss.”

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