By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
It was more than 40 years ago that Timothy Francis joined the Fairhaven Fire Department as a call firefighter. In 1982 he was appointed as a permanent firefighter and ascended the ranks to lieutenant in 1993. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to deputy chief in 1995, and in 1999 Tim Francis became Fairhaven’s fire chief and would serve in that capacity for roughly 21 years
On January 8, 2021, Chief Francis retired from his post, and the strident symphony of a stream of fire trucks from Fairhaven and surrounding towns through the sunny streets of Fairhaven let everyone in town know about it.
To honor the event’s significance, the town coordinated a “last ride home” for Mr. Francis from the fire station on Washington Street down through the center of town. The convoy stopped at the Town Hall steps where a socially-distanced crowd of face-masked family members, Town Hall employees, and grateful Fairhaven residents gave a round of applause for Mr. Francis’s service over the last several decades.
Francis rode shotgun in Ladder Truck 1, his eyes scanning the familiar faces on the front lawn of Town Hall, and set his sights on one particular little face. He dismounted the fire truck and headed straight to a nearby baby stroller.
“Look, it’s Papa! Say hi to Papa!”
Those standing with the stroller suggested as Mr. Francis approached with a smile that couldn’t possibly be concealed by the mask covering half his face.
With one of those affectionate gestures still allowed during a pandemic, Mr. Francis brushed the back of his hand across his grandchild’s knee and gave it a little squeeze before ascending the stairs to the foyer of Town Hall where Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas waited to present Mr. Francis with a congratulatory citation.
Mr. Francis’s list of accomplishments and honorable achievements is a long one, with one of his most proud being his oversight of the merging of EMS services with the fire department.
Mr. Francis began the transition in 1999 and worked to train all firefighters for dual certification in fire rescue and emergency medical services. He has also served as chairperson of the EMS Committee for the Massachusetts Fire Chiefs since 2001 and was appointed by Governor Mitt Romney to the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Mr. Freitas wished the chief all the best in his retirement and, on behalf of the Selectboard, declared January 8, 2021, as Fire Chief Timothy Francis Day in Fairhaven.
The convoy then proceeded to Mr. Francis’s home where uniformed officers lined the street to greet him.
Mr. Francis told the crowd that he was looking at the future of the Fairhaven Fire Department and he could not be more proud, as he got emotional.
“You men and women have a great future ahead of you,” said Mr. Francis. “You’re under new leadership who’s gonna take you places way beyond where you are now.”
He told them to keep learning and to learn from their mistakes.
“You’re brothers and sisters. You need to treat yourself like brothers and sisters and take care of each other,” he said. “Enjoy your careers. Do the best you can do. And that’s all the people can ask of you. So as long as you do the best you can do.”
He also said he would be around town keeping an eye on them, and they are there to set an example.
“When you’re wearing that uniform you’re wearing now be proud of it,” he said. “Not everybody gets to do that. So be proud of it.”
Chief Francis also pinned his nephew Josh Benoit, who was promoted to lieutenant.
“The town should be very proud of Tim and Josh,” said Lt. Benoit’s mother-in-law Carol Fateux. “And of course they mean a lot to the family.”
“It’s a great day,” said Lt. Paul Correia, adding the chief “elevated” the department, and the new chief, Todd Correia, and deputy chief Joy Nichols will take it to a new level due to their dedication to the department and the town. “They have good ideas, good thoughts.”
“I’’m a little overwhelmed,” said Mr. Francis after the saluting and speechmaking were over, adding that he did not want to get emotional, “but I did.”
His daughter Samantha said she felt very proud. The fire department has been her “second family forever.”
She said she knew her dad would miss it, but she knows she will always be welcome at the fire station.
“It’s been such a big part of my life,” said Samantha, 26. “I’m proud to be his daughter, that’s for sure.”
Her brother Scott, 20, echoed the sentiment, saying he felt “blessed that I could be part of this.”
“My dad is a good role model,” said Scott. “He deserves the best.”
Scott said he, too, loves the fire department and is considering a career in firefighting, but not quite yet. He has a some school to get through.
Josh Benoit, who became Lt. Benoit when Joy Nichols’s promotion opened up a spot, said he owed Chief Francis “a lot.”
Lt. Benoit said he was not necessarily headed in the right direction when his uncle suggested he try out being a call firefighter.
“I fell in love with the job and found my calling,” said Lt. Benoit, adding that he remembered going to the station as a kid and “being in awe.”
Beth David contributed to this report.
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