Until now, the riffs of Chris Richard's acoustic guitar could only be heard coming from inside his firehouse or at local concerts. But next week, the Newburyport firefighter will share his original song in memory of his late wife with a much larger audience.

Richard, a 10-year veteran of the Newburyport Fire Department and an emergency medical technician, is one of 10 finalists in Tuesday's "Stars Over Boston 2009, Unsung Heroes Who Sing" contest at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston.

The contest spotlights the hidden vocal talents of firefighters, police officers, EMTs and military personnel from across the state. Richard and the other finalists will perform before a panel of celebrity judges for a shot at $500 to benefit the charity of their choice.

"My friend called and said I have to do it; it's for charity," Richard, 34, said of the contest. "I called and gave them a demo tape, and they said I was a finalist."

When Richard lost his 30-year-old wife, Jamie, to breast cancer three years ago, he said he was astounded by the community support he and his then 2 1/2-year-old son, Jason, received.

On Tuesday, he'll perform a song he wrote following his wife's death. Titled "Forever Not That Long," the song chronicles his willingness to wait to see his wife again and his struggle raising a son who misses his mother.

"I know in my heart you'll never be gone," Richard sings in the song. "Can you make forever not that long?"

If Richard wins, the prize money will support the Lawrence charity, "Let's March Against Cancer," that was started partly in response to his late wife's battle with cancer.

Participating in "Unsung Heroes Who Sing" seemed natural for Richard. He said it's rare a contest comes along geared toward emergency personnel. And singing a song so close to his heart made the contest that much more appealing.

"It isn't for the promise of being a rock star, but it's for charity,' Richard said. "I can sing the song I wrote for my wife. To have it all come together like that gave me enough drive to apply."

Richard taught himself to play guitar when he was in the fourth grade and then eventually taught himself to sing, more out of necessity than a personal desire to lend his voice to his music, he said.

"I starting singing to accompany my guitar playing; no one wants to hear an instrumental song," he said. "With enough practice by myself in the car, I guess I started singing."

While Richard is no stranger to performing (he's done shows at Moseley Woods in Newburyport, Latitudes Sports Club in Salisbury and Michael's Harborside in Newburyport, where he has another appearance scheduled for later this month), he's still a little nervous going into next week's contest.

"They call you up in random order," Richard said. "There is barely a warm-up, just a sound check before the show."

"Unsung Heroes Who Sing" is presented by the New England chapter of the American Women in Radio and Television. In addition to the prize money for charity, the winner will earn a performance spot on UPN-38 TV and WBZ's "Community Auditions." The celebrity judges include arts and entertainment critic Joyce Kulhawik, Magic 106.7-FM's Candy O'Terry, Tom Doyle of the "Loren and Wally Show" on 105.7 WROR, and Hank Morse of local radio stations.

Even though his fellow brothers on the Fire Department often razz Richard about the attention he gets performing, they attend nearly all his shows.

"The Fire Department is really good with their support," he said.

Richard added, "My family and friends make me tick, especially with my son and being a single dad. They help me make it work."

IF YOU GO

What: "Stars Over Boston 2009: Unsung Heroes Who Sing" competition

When: Tuesday at 8 p.m., doors open at 7.

Where: Scullers Jazz Club in the Doubletree Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston

Cost: Tickets $48, $38 for American Women in Radio & Television members and friends and family of performers, $28 students; available at Scullers box office at 617-562 4111 or www.scullersjazz.com.

The Competition

Chris Richard of Newburyport (10-year Newburyport firefighter and emergency medical technician)

Mike Ruggere of Weymouth (Boston firefighter)

James Hoar of Dorchester (Boston fire lieutenant)

Robert Walsh of Somerville (federal law enforcement officer in Boston)

Yma Arrington of Boston (32-year Boston police officer)

Pauline Wells of Milton (Cambridge police sergeant and detective)

Shanna Glassman of Upton (reserve police officer and rape crisis counselor)

Brad Durkin of Andover (Marine Rifleman 0311, Bravo Company reservist)

Chuck Carnell of Arlington (Arlington firefighter and emergency medical technician)

Blair B. Raker of Hanscom Air Force Base (senior Air Force airman)

More on Port's singing fireman

Closer to home: Chris Richard will be performing Saturday, April 18, from 8 to 11 p.m. at Michael's Harborside in Newburyport.

Hear more: For Richard's acoustic cover of Rob Thomas' "Ever The Same," which he dedicates to his late wife, Jamie, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2006, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=2poTONZpMxY.

To donate: Contributions to "Let's March Against Cancer," a charity started partly in response to Jamie Richard's battle with breast cancer, can be made by logging onto www.letsmarchagainstcancer.org/index.html.

Forever Not That Long

It's only been a few days, since you left me alone.

I want to hear your soft voice, why can't you call me on the phone?

To let me know you're OK and that it wont be that long

'cuz forever seems so hard to take and I want to hold on.

CHORUS

Can you tell me, do you know how to make forever not that long?

Can it be written in words of some old song?

Yes, I know in my heart that you'll never be gone.

Tell me, can you make forever not that long?

Tell me, can you make forever not that long?

I got your baby boy to hold, he helps me through those nights.

But he misses mommy so much and I want to make him feel all right.

I try to find the words to say, while holding back the tears.

He needs to know you're always here to see what's coming in his years.

CHORUS

I know I sense you sometimes watching over us.

Can I have a little more than that? I just want to feel your touch.

If I need to wait forever, then waiting's what I'll do.

If you hear me singing this song out, know I'm singing this for you.

CHORUS

 

A video of Chris Richard rehearsing his song