Celebrating the life of a Dartmouth icon: Fire Chief McNamara

Sep 20, 2019

John J. McNamara, a Dartmouth icon known to many as “Chief Mac” and the retired Fire Chief of District 3, passed away on September 18 at the age of 76.

Chief Mac served the district for 37 years, 24 of them as Chief, and continued serving for ten years after his retirement in 2005 overseeing the district’s finances on the Prudential Committee.

With a combined 47 years of service to the district, current District 3 Fire Chief Richard Arruda noted, Chief Mac “literally worked half of all the years the fire district was established.” The district was established in 1923. 

Arruda was appointed as a firefighter by Chief Mac in 1987, later going on to become his second in command and ultimately taking his place as Fire Chief in 2005.

Taking over from Chief Mac was difficult, he said, as there were “big shoes to fill.” 

In his first report as Chief, Arruda wrote of his predecessor, “Chief Mac’s unmatched commitment to the fire department and the community will continue to be a model for all public service professionals to follow.”

“He was a good fireman and truly cared for the people in the community he protected,” he stated. “Committed to service, as Fire Chief he never missed an emergency call.”

Arruda choked up with emotion as he remembered the man. “He was friendly to everybody, knew everybody by name,” he said, describing the former chief as “open” and a “great personality.”

The first few weeks after he took over as Chief, Arruda remembered, people would honk and wave at the red cruiser that went with the office, thinking that he was Chief Mac.

“Everywhere he went, he’d be beeping and waving. He’d pull up at a red light, and he’d be talking to people. Because everybody knew him,” he said. 

“So I’m driving his cruiser for weeks, and I’m driving around, and people are like beeping and waving at the car. And when they see me driving it, they’re like ‘Oh my God, that’s not Johnny Mac.’”

So when it came time to retire the car, Arruda said, the district just gave it to Chief Mac.

And his legacy in the district will be long-lasting as well.

All three of the former chief’s sons have worked as firefighters in the department, and the eldest, Garth, is a full-time firefighter there still.

“And I still run into people almost weekly, they’ll be like ‘Hey, how’s Johnny Mac?’ Everybody’s always asking about him. Always,” Arruda said. “And they always follow it up with ‘Oh, we love Johnny Mac,’ or ‘Oh, he’s such a nice guy.’”

Chief Mac’s wake will be held on Tuesday, September 24 from 2 to 8 p.m., and his funeral will be on Wednesday September 25 at 9 a.m. from the Saunders-Dwyer Home at 495 Park St., New Bedford. 

All of Dartmouth’s firefighters will be in attendance, as well as many emergency personnel from the South Coast area. According to Chief Arruda, a special ceremony will be held at the District No. 3 headquarters on 140 Cross Road during the funeral procession on Wednesday morning.