January 1

Augusta firefighter retires after 34 years of fire and ice

Dan Guimond battled the blaze that destroyed a downtown building where firefighters fought for three days in subzero temperatures.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — As ice enveloped the city last week, knocking out power to thousands and keeping public safety workers busy responding to calls for help, Dan Guimond, for the first time in more than three decades, had only his own home and family to keep safe.

click image to enlarge

LIFETIME OF SERVICE: Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Dan Guimond retired recently after 34 years of service to the city. He worked as a dispatcher from 1979 until 1981 before joining the fire service.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

That didn’t feel quite right for the newly retired firefighter who, with his co-workers, has shared the responsibility for helping keep the whole city safe.

“It was kind of a funny feeling, watching people go on calls, and not going with them,” said Guimond, a lifelong Augusta resident who retired as a battalion chief with the fire department last month. “It was hard to make the decision to retire. I thought about it for a long time. Yeah, I kind of miss it. You miss the type of work you do, it’s all about helping people.”

Guimond vividly recalls the last time the city got hit by so much ice, the ice storm of 1998. He was stationed at a makeshift emergency operations center at City Hall for seven straight days, handling the logistics of the city’s response to widespread power outages, frigid temperatures, and downed trees limbs.

In last week’s storm, during which the city opened an emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center, Guimond, rather than responding to rescue or fire calls, was in his own backyard with a chainsaw, cutting up fallen trees. But he said he “wouldn’t have minded at all” if he, instead, had been busy working with firefighters, helping others deal with the storm.

Fire Chief Roger Audette said Guimond was the city’s most experienced firefighter. And experience, he said, matters.

“Experience is important in this business, it’s a big loss for us,” Audette said of Guimond’s retirement. “He was excellent at his job. He was very well respected by his crews. Very safe and professional. And, as a lifelong Augusta resident, he knows a lot of the people he goes to help.”

Guimond, 55, started working for the city in 1979 as a public safety dispatcher following a stint in the Navy. In 1981, at the age of 21, a job opened up in the fire department, so he made a move. He’s been there ever since.

He was promoted to battalion chief in 2009. Before that, he was a lieutenant for about five years.

He has also, for many years, been responsible for reviewing proposed construction projects in the city, making recommendations to the code enforcement office and Planning Board for items such as fire extinguishers, sprinkler connections and hydrant locations. He reviewed plans to make sure proposed new buildings meet all fire codes and have adequate safe access for public safety vehicles and crews. He also maintained files on the city’s buildings, noting vacant buildings and archiving other information public safety workers might need to know if responding to an incident at those buildings.

And, as battalion chief, Audette noted Guimond was in charge of entire crews of firefighters as they battled fires.

Memorable fires he responded to over the years included a fire at the Statler Tissue mill where firefighters, Guimond said, had several close calls, and a fire that destroyed a downtown building where firefighters fought for three days in subzero temperatures, both in the 1980s.

Fatal accidents he’s responded to also stick in his head, though he wishes they wouldn’t.

In his retirement Guimond, who is married and has a daughter, plans to go on a cruise in the spring, spend more time hunting and fishing, and get a part-time job.

He said he already misses working in the fire department.

“It’s a family you grow up with, a second family,” he said. “It was a nice ride.”

Audette said Guimond will be honored with a lunch and recognized at the Jan. 16 Augusta City Council meeting.

Audette said the battalion chief’s position will be filled through a promotional process, likely in late January.

The city’s other battalion chiefs are John Bennett, Scott Dunbar and Steve Leach.

“His dedication to the department is something we look for,” Audette said of Guimond. “It’s something we’ll dearly miss. It takes a special person to do that job. He certainly was the right fit.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com

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