ORONO, Maine — There were a lot of laughs bouncing around the Orono fire station Tuesday afternoon as firefighters swapped stories about an old colleague and boss.
Those laughs sometimes subsided between stories, replaced by somber gazes at the table as it sunk in — former Fire Chief Lorin Lecleire was gone.
“It’s hard to go from saying, ‘I know him’ to ‘I knew him,’” said firefighter Dennis Bean.
Lecleire, who lived in Clifton, died unexpectedly on Monday. He was 52 years old.
Lecleire served as fire chief for seven years before retiring in 2005 after 25 years with the department.
He graduated from Bangor High School in 1979. Throughout Lecleire’s high school years, he volunteered with Orono-based Dirigo Search and Rescue, which led to his interest in the Fire Department, according to his colleagues.
The department hired Lecleire the year after he graduated.
In his quarter-century with the department, Lecleire generated a lot of stories that will be passed around the building for years to come.
There was that time he hit a curb near the corner of Bennoch Road and Main Street, flipping his truck, trailer and fishing boat and sliding into the intersection. His fellow firefighters walked down to help him clean up the mess.
There was his fear of bats and bees.
“He’d run into a burning building, but he’d run away from bees,” said 2nd Lt. Kevin Sirois.
To be fair — he was allergic.
Then there are the tales that stem from the prank wars, which inevitably develop at every fire station.
Like that time Bean came up with a prank while cleaning his boots. The department had responded to several false alarms at a University of Maine dormitory that night. Expecting that the alarm was faulty and the department might get called again, Bean spread some boot polish on the inside of Lecleire’s helmet.
They did get called back to the dormitory.
When Lecleire took off his helmet at the scene, one of his fellow firefighters informed him he had a spot on his forehead. Lecleire tried to wipe it away.
“It’s still there,” Bean told Lecleire.
This process repeated several times. Before Lecleire realized what was happening, his face and hand were covered in black shoe polish.
Meanwhile, more than 100 UMaine students stood by, laughing hysterically at Lecleire’s expense while they waited to be allowed into the building.
“He wasn’t happy,” Bean said.
“There are so many stories to be told,” Sirois said. “But some just shouldn’t be in print,” he added with a laugh.
The firefighters credited Lecleire with drawing in a lot of new employees from the UMaine student body, many of whom became interested in the department because of Lecleire’s outreach efforts at UMaine.
They also said Lecleire helped create a hazmat team in Orono in 1991. That team has grown to a regional response team that deals with hazardous materials in the state just about anywhere north of Newport.
In the late 1990s, Lecleire led a push to merge the town’s then-volunteer ambulance service with the Fire Department, creating more reliable, efficient public safety services in Orono.
Lecleire is survived by his female companion, Judy Rolfe; a son, Zachary Lecleire; and Zachary’s mother, Snookey Lecleire-Karst, all of Clifton; a brother, Patrick Storey of Bucksport; and a sister, Vickie O’Connor of Bangor, according to his obituary.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at Brookings-Smith, 133 Center St., Bangor. Pastor Greg Selmon of Grace Bible Church in Holden will officiate.
Orono firefighters will post themselves around town as honor guards, display a helmet, fold a flag and ring a bell in remembrance of the former chief. Bangor firefighters will assist as the color guards for the ceremony, according to Sirois.
“He always stood firmly for what he believed in,” Bean said, “and he believed in us.”