HAMPDEN, Maine — Elwyn Brewer was recognized Tuesday for a milestone that few firefighters reach.
Brewer, 77, retired on July 25 after a 45-year career as a volunteer firefighter — the last 34 as assistant chief.
“Oh, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the people and I’m going to miss the department, I’m sure,” Brewer said Tuesday night during a gathering in his honor at Hampden’s public safety complex.
“I could have retired 15 years ago,” he said, but firefighting was in his blood and his colleagues were like family.
“Whenever I’ve needed help, they were there,” he said. They were there for him the day that his wife, Teeny, died in 2000 from diabetes, and they were there to help him unload his new pellet stove after he brought it home and discovered he couldn’t lift it, he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of chiefs come and go and a lot of [firefighters] come and go. I’ve seen changes in personnel, I’ve seen changes in training and I’ve seen changes in equipment — everything for the best,” Brewer said at the start of Tuesday’s retirement party, an event that was part tribute and part roast.
Among those who stopped by to congratulate Brewer and thank him for his decades of service were current and former firefighters from Hampden, Hermon, Newburgh, Bangor, Winterport and the Maine Forest Service and several Hampden police officers, municipal officials and council members.
“He’s the last of an old breed. He’s the last of an old generation,” Hampden fire Lt. Frank Coombs said of Brewer, who joined the town’s fire department on June 1, 1964, at the age of 32, shortly after moving to Hampden from his native Mars Hill. At that time, firefighters received $1 a call, Coombs noted.
Over the years, Coombs said, Brewer earned the respect of firefighters across the state, including the membership of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters, who named him their first Firefighter of the Year.
Coombs also said that Brewer not only fought fires, he also mentored generations of new firefighters, among them Newburgh volunteer firefighter Craig Stecher.
“He’s a great guy,” Stecher said. “He was instrumental in my core training when I was just starting out so I’m glad to see him get to this point in his life.”