MILO, Maine — Mark Demers, 57, a veteran Milo firefighter, had one wish when he learned the cancer in his lung had spread to his brain and he had a matter of months to live.
That wish — to attend the annual state convention of firefighters next month in Kennebunk — will be granted by his brethren throughout the state.
“I only missed the first convention, the first year I joined the Fire Department,” Demers said Monday night. He said he had attended the 21 other conventions and didn’t want to miss his last convention on Sept. 11, 12 and 13.
Demers, who spent 22 years serving his community as a firefighter — a job that included educating youths about fire prevention and training junior recruits — said he enjoys the camaraderie at the annual gatherings and the solidarity among his peers.
That solidarity kicked in when firefighters learned Demers was terminally ill with cancer.
Steve DeWitt, a former Milo firefighter and chief of emergency medical services in Etna, and Milo firefighters are working to raise $3,000 so that Demers and his wife, Robin, can attend the convention free of charge. If 250 people donate $25 each, the money would be raised quickly, DeWitt said.
“We want to make sure that Mark knows how many people love him,” DeWitt added, noting that regardless of how much money is raised, Demers’ supporters are determined to get him to the convention in Kennebunk.
Arrangements have been made for the family to make the trip to and from Kennebunk in a limousine. If his health prevents the long ride, Dana Inghan, the Kennebunk district fire chief, said Tuesday there is a possibility an arrangement could be made with LifeFlight to airlift him to the convention.
Inghan, who was contacted by DeWitt, said the Kennebunk Fire Department would do everything it could to help Demers.
Demers has always marched with fellow Milo firefighters in the annual firefighters parade at the state convention, but can’t this year because of his health. Inghan said arrangements are being made to have him ride in the parade. “We’re going to do anything we can, and whatever he needs he’s going to have,” he said.
Demers is appreciative of the help. “I’m just thankful for the help people have shown,” he said.
Demers had been in good health until last month when he noticed he tired quickly. He said his pulse became erratic in July while he was operating an excavator on the Golden Road. A co-worker took him to the Millinocket hospital, where tests indicated he had a tumor on his right lung. He was transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where the extent of his cancer was revealed. Radiation treatments were begun immediately.
The assistant Milo fire chief said he has enjoyed his time as a firefighter and the friendships he has formed over the years.
Likewise, the people Demers has helped over the years are appreciative of his service. Milo Fire Chief Dave Preble said Demers’ service in the schools and in the community has been greatly appreciated.
Ricky Bradeen, 17, who has been a junior firefighter for five years, recalled when Demers came to his class and presented a program on fire prevention. Several years later, Bradeen said, Demers served as his instructor in the junior firefighter program.
“He was just great,” Bradeen said. He said Demers was patient with new recruits and made sure they understood all aspects of firefighting. “He was a great leader for the juniors and was a positive influence.”
Demers said he values the relationships he developed over the years through the Fire Department and appreciates the compassion shown to him and his family. He has been told that his name is on a prayer list that has been circulated throughout the country, and that gives him hope.
“I plan to take one day at a time and pray and hope for the best,” Demers said.