Former Manchester, Hooksett fire chief Burkush to run for Ward 9 alderman

·3 min read

Jan. 20—A former Manchester fire chief has declared his candidacy for the city's vacant Ward 9 alderman seat.

Retired Hooksett Fire Chief James Burkush, who served the Manchester fire department for four decades before retiring as chief in 2017, announced Thursday he is running for the seat left vacant following the death last month of longtime incumbent Barbara Shaw.

Manchester aldermen have officially set a date for a special election on March 15. The official filing period for candidates opened up Wednesday, Jan. 19, and will remain open until 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28.

Shaw, 79, died Dec. 22 following complications from a planned surgery. She had been an alderman for 12 years and was first elected to the state Legislature in 2000 as a Democrat.

As a former Manchester firefighter, a former state representative, and a current commissioner for the Manchester Department of Public Works, Burkush said he brings over 44 years of experience in public service to the campaign.

"The people of Manchester are some of the hardest-working Granite State citizens you can find, and they deserve homegrown representation that is engaged, fiscally responsible, and in touch with the needs of the community," said Burkush in a statement. "I've lived in Ward 9 my entire life, and I have worked to keep my neighbors and fellow residents safe and well-served by their public service agencies. As alderman, I will keep taxes low, ensure that all city services are running smoothly, and focus on addressing our housing and homeless crisis. I have proudly served this community for 44 years, and I look forward to working hard for the residents of our ward."

Burkush ran against Shaw for the Ward 9 seat in 2017, falling 23 votes short in a bid to unseat the incumbent — 924 to 901.

Burkush becomes the second candidate to announce a run for the Ward 9 seat. On Wednesday, two-time mayoral candidate and former Republican state representative Victoria Sullivan launched her campaign.

Aldermen voted last August to approve a new policy allowing aldermanic vacancies to be filled through a single, winner-take-all election.

Over his career, Burkush responded to hundreds of fires and rescues. In a 2017 interview with the Union Leader, he said the hardest ones are those where someone died, particularly children.

One of his first calls, he said, was when police Capt. Evangelos Xiggoros was shot in the back in the police station on Dec. 31, 1977.

A woman filing a complaint also was wounded when three shots were fired from a third-floor Manchester Street apartment by Thomas H. Theodosopoulos, then 22, using a .350 caliber Magnum rifle.

Burkush said police immediately turned out all the lights, not knowing where the shots came from or if there were more to come. He said he and another firefighter made their way inside the police station to reach Xiggoros and take him out.

One of the most emotional calls Burkush was involved in was the rescue of Ada Geigel in 1996. The Manchester mother of two, then 28 years old, had fallen from the Bridge Street Bridge into the Merrimack River.

Burkush was a member of Rescue 1, which saved the woman.

Later, firefighters learned Geigel had killed her 6-year-old son, Xayomar, stabbing him in the stomach with a sword because, she told Catholic Medical Center nurses, he was born evil.

She, too, was suffering from a stab wound to the stomach. Geigel later was found incompetent to stand trial.

There were other tough times, like the death of Firefighter David Anderson in 1999, Burkush said. Anderson suffered a heart attack at a fire.

Burkush retired as Manchester chief in 2017, then became Hooksett's fire chief a short time later.

pfeely@unionleader.com