3/15/2013 2:18:00 PM Maxwell ends 62 years of firefighting
Wilfred Maxwell demonstrates the helmet he wore for the last 20 years of his 62 year-long career with the Flat Rock Fire Protection District. He retired from the department last week. (Graham Milldrum photo)
Sixty-two years as a volunteer firefighter in the Flat Rock Fire Protection District was finally enough for Wilfred Maxwell. He retired from the department last week at 82.
The beginning of his career sounded almost inevitable. His garage was right next to the firehouse, and he got used to the sight and sound of fire equipment coming and going.
He decided they needed help, and started in 1955.
As far as the risks to her husband, to whom she had been married for four years at that point, Lavene was laconic.
"It's just what he wanted to do," she said, shrugging.
He continued to work at the garage, sometimes working on the same equipment he would ride to a fire.
Maxwell's seen a lot of expansion in his time at the fire department. They went from having one brush truck to six vehicles, built a new firehouse and equipment became heavier over the years.
In that time, he and his wife built their home - one that seems to keep getting smaller as more and more great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren show up. Right now they have eight grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and six great-great-great grandchildren.
He said Flat Rock firefighters used to put out a lot of fires along the Big Four rail line between Robinson and Lawrenceville from the sparks created by the locomotives.
That kind of grass fire was the first that Maxwell's grandson, Chris Wesley, ever fought. He said he was 18 or 19 when he saw his grandfather and another, older, volunteer respond to a fire.
He wasn't even in the department yet, but they added him to the crew. He said the three of them were out fighting the fire, dragging hoses through the woods to try and contain it.
His grandparents said they used to tease him about "following in his grandfather's footsteps."
It's true, Wesley said. He started working on cars because Maxwell was working on them. When he moved to Robinson and a friend said the local department was accepting applications, he filled one out, because that's what Grandpa did. And he became a professional firefighter, going through extensive training and work because that was a track his grandfather had laid down.
Wesley said by the time he began to fight fires alongside his grandfather, Maxwell had moved more into a command role. Wesley said that unlike some experienced firefighters, Maxwell willingly shares his knowledge freely.
"I don't want to say he's a daredevil, but he would take unnecessary risks," Lavene said.
"I wouldn't say it, but it's true," Maxwell said.
But Maxwell avoided injury throughout his career. The closest he came was when a tree fell on a building near the fire station. He said the power company suddenly turned on the electricity and nearly shocked him. But that was it.
Finally dealing with the new equipment and his advancing age became too much, he said.
"When it started he could be out of the house in five minutes," Lavene said.
"It didn't take me that long," he replied. But it became harder to get into the heavy coat and complex helmet, he said.
And he didn't feel as needed by the department. He said there are plenty of new firefighters who are ready to get on a fire - as many as six, when Maxwell still thinks two could do the job.
"I deserved a little rest," he said.
Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Article comment by:
Its time to take it easy and watch someone else handle it you need to enjoy life and those grandkids. Good luck on your retirement!
Posted: Friday, March 22, 2013
Article comment by:
Great to read this story about my old friend Wilfred Maxwell! I went to school with his kids and daughter in laws, he and Lavene were always so kind.