Yarmouth's only full-time chief retiring after 55 years of fighting fires

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YARMOUTH — Fire Department Chief Byron “Pat” Fairbanks has seen it all.

He has made hard decisions, saved lives, trained thousands of people, lost coworkers and now, at 68, is ready to spend uninterrupted time with his wife Patricia and his family.

Fairbanks, who has been a career firefighter for 55 years, will retire on Feb. 3.

He started his career as a junior firefighter in Cumberland in 1957, when he was a freshman at Greely High School. He served in the military after high school and when he returned, found work in the Portland Fire Department. In 1975 he moved to the Yarmouth Fire Department and in 1996 was appointed chief.

He is the only full-time chief the town has ever had.

“I am fortunate to have worked with a lot of good people and had the support of the Town Council and (Town Manager) Nat (Tupper),” he said. “It is difficult work. You have to be in shape, you have to make hard decisions, and you are pulled from your family at any time.”

He said couldn’t have done it without the support and understanding of his wife of 45 years.

“In the older days we were much more ‘drop everything’ when the bell rang,” he said. “Now, I encourage people that the family comes first. In the old days, the Fire Department came first.”

In 2000, Fairbanks merged the fire and rescue departments, which is now known as Yarmouth Fire-Rescue. He also helped make the training facility at the transfer and recycling station used by the Coastal Mutual Aid Association, a coalition of 16 local communities, what it is today.

Cumberland Fire Chief Dan Small has known Fairbanks for 26 years. He said Fairbanks has been like a second father to him, available to answer questions and willing to share his years of experience.

He said the training facility championed by Fairbanks has been invaluable to area firefighters by helping to build their confidence and giving them real-world fire experience.

“This facility allows people to crawl before they walk and walk before they run,” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have been through there.”

The facility is a four-story house with two controlled-burn rooms and obstacles for firefighters to use for training purposes. There is a kitchen for firefighters to practice putting out grease fires, and propane tanks for gas fires.

Fairbanks said thousands of training sessions have been held at the facility, and it has been used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; police SWAT teams and fire departments from other states.

Deputy Fire Chief Mike Robitaille has worked with Fairbanks for seven years. He said Fairbanks has been a mentor to many people in the department, and is progressive in his approach to technology.

“He does a good job keeping resources and financial backing,” Robitaille said. “He has a great rapport with the community, he knows everybody and everybody knows him.”

Robitaille said while there has been a significant increase in fire and emergency medical calls – from 600 in 1996 to nearly 1,500 in 2011 – Fairbanks has kept the safety of the residents in Yarmouth and neighboring communities his top priority.

“He has been very fiscally responsible to the citizens while keeping them safe,” Robitaille said. “And he has done all this with the support of his wife Patty, who has stood by him over the years.”

Deputy Chief Bill Goddard has worked with Fairbanks for 15 years and has served as a firefighter for about 52 years.

“I have truly enjoyed working with (Fairbanks), it has been a pleasure and he will be missed,” Goddard said. “He is a very talented firefighter and Yarmouth has been very fortunate to have him. Whomever the new chief may be, has tough shoes to fill.”

Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier has known Fairbanks since the early 1970s. He said his honesty and integrity is “second to none.”

“What I like about (Fairbanks) is that he tells it like it is,” Fournier said. “I appreciate that about him.”

He said when Fairbanks was promoted to chief he was instrumental in increasing the mutual aid between Yarmouth and Freeport, so much so “it sometimes seems like we are one department,” Fournier said. “It has been excellent working together.”

Fairbanks turns 69 this month, and said he likes to garden, hunt and fish. He said he and his wife are looking forward to “doing whatever it is we want to do.”

“I’ve been fortunate to work with good people,” he said. “I’m going to miss it and a lot of the people. You know the story, you surround yourself with good people and it makes you look good? That’s what I’ve got.”

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson

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Chief Byron “Pat” Fairbanks will retire in February after serving 55 years as a firefighter in Cumberland, Falmouth, Portland and Yarmouth. He has been the Yarmouth Fire Department chief since 1996. The department will host an open house to honor him on Feb. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the North Road Fire Station.

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