BAILEYVILLE, Maine — The town of Baileyville got a lot more in the bargain when Bob Fitzsimmons was named police chief a little over a year ago. They also got an assistant for the town’s department of parks and recreation and another public works employee thrown in for good measure — as well as unofficial chief civic booster.
Fitzsimmons does not actually have extra duties for parks and recreation and public works. It just seems that way.
“He is a great guy and a real asset to Baileyville,” said Town Manager Rick Bronson, who praised Fitzsimmons and the town’s other officers for their approach to community policing and their work with the local schools. Fitzsimmons also has worked closely with Mike Boies, director of the town’s department of parks and recreation, noted Bronson on Thursday.
“He is a vital part of the community,” Jane Smith, principal of Woodland Elementary School, said Thursday.
Fitzsimmons, 50, was named police chief in May 2013. It was a homecoming of sorts. He grew up in the town, home of the Woodland Pulp mill, and his father was police chief in Baileyville in the 1970s. Fitzsimmons previously worked for the Calais Police Department and still lives in Calais.
His heart, however, appears firmly embedded in the little community where he grew up, a town of about 1,300 people. He has taken a leadership role in planning and organizing fun events for the community and efforts to help others.
The first activity he organized was a cleanup day after a few weeks on the job. Fitzsimmons posted notices on Facebook pages, saying he was going to help clean up one day. The posting told people, “If you want to come and help, great. This is what time I’m going to start my lawnmower,” he recalled. Twenty-two people showed up, including residents of other communities — Alexander, Baring and Calais. They mowed lawns, cut weeds, raked debris and hauled away brush. Some of the properties they cleaned up were vacant or abandoned; others were occupied by elderly residents who needed help taking care of them.
“It’s important to watch over them,” Fitzsimmons said of the town’s elderly.
In the winter he organized a day of sledding on a hill on Fourth Avenue. The town’s public works employees donated their time, and the Town Council authorized them to use town equipment; a portion of the road was blocked off and covered with snow temporarily for sledding.
“We had over 150 people show up that day just to slide or watch their kids slide,” he recalled.
He helped organize a day of ice fishing on Pocomoonshine Lake in Princeton. “That was huge,” recalled Fitzsimmons, attracting over 250 people. Like the other activities, it generated an outpouring of other volunteers and community support from individuals, businesses and the schools: donations of hot dogs, hot chocolate, shuttle service by a school bus for those without transportation. Members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe warden service caught and donated all the bait that was needed, and members of the tribe taught youngsters how to use ice fishing traps.
“So many volunteered and donated,” recalled Fitzsimmons. “I was overwhelmed.”
In March he organized a movie night at the elementary school. A few weeks ago he organized a game of kickball, and he is planning a whiffle ball game soon.
Asked why he has taken the initiative to sponsor the recreational activities, Fitzsimmons is quick to respond. “Well, it’s what I used to do when I was a kid,” he recalled. “These are fun activities,” better for youngsters than video games, he suggested.
Fitzsimmons insisted the recreation activities he initiated simply augment the efforts of Boise, who has supported his efforts.
“He’s a one-man show,” said Fitzsimmons. “You can’t believe how busy this guy is.”
Fitzsimmons is also a regular visitor to the town’s two schools, Woodland Elementary School and Woodland Junior-Senior High School. He is so beloved by the elementary schoolchildren that Fitzsimmons has to pull them off his leg when he leaves, said Smith.
“He definitely has made a positive impression on the children long before they get to middle school or high school,” she said. He also has been involved in mentoring some children who have faced difficulties. “It changed the way those kids acted from that time on,” said Smith.
At the high school, principal Patricia Metta said Fitzsimmons has talked to the students about bullying, drug abuse and other topics. He once participated in a junior English class for a week. The students were reading a book as part of an assignment and complaining how tough the questions were. Fitzsimmons participated in the class, did the same homework, took the quizzes — all to encourage and challenge the youngsters.
“The kids see him as a friend, as somebody they can go to and talk to,” said Metta Thursday.
As he drove his police cruiser throughout the town on Friday morning, he waved at a number of motorists who returned the greeting and often stopped to talk to people. He waved at people sitting in their front yard, holding a yard sale; all of them returned the gesture, including a young boy.
Fitzsimmons pulled up alongside of Mark Drotar, walking along a street. “How’s your mother doing?” the chief asked, and they conversed about Drotar’s family. Drotar graduated a year ahead of him at the high school, he said later. Fitzsimmons had not seen him in decades.
He stopped at a garage to pay a quick visit to Jack Costello. Fitzsimmons had been by the previous day; Costello was sitting down, slumped over. Fitzsimmons checked his symptoms, and, concerned about his health, summoned an ambulance to have him checked out.
“Thanks a lot,” said Costello, who knew the chief’s father.
Fitzsimmons has six officers under him, two full-time and six part-time. He singled out Cpl. Andrew Seavey and patrolman Josh Engroff. “They do the lion’s share of the work,” said Fitzsimmons, in their duties at night.
Fitzsimmons enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in Baileyville. He returned after his military service and worked as a security guard in the town’s mill for a few years. He went to work in motel management in Calais and bought and sold a motel. He left Maine for a number of years after taking a security position with K-Mart stores; he was a loss prevention manager for an area that covered several states in the mid-Atlantic region. He returned to Maine to begin working in law enforcement with the Pleasant Point Police Department, where he served three years as a game warden and nine as a police officer.
“I absolutely love this job,” said Fitzsimmons, who enjoys riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle with his girlfriend or golfing in his spare time. “This is the most fun I’ve had as a police officer in 15 years.”
After Tropical Storm Arthur swept through recently, knocking down some trees and limbs, Fitzsimmons posted a note on Facebook saying he was going to meet at the police station on a Sunday to help people clean up the debris and invited others to participate. Ten others showed up to give people a hand.
One was Jeff Guire, owner of HeatherWood Gardens greenhouse in Baring. He told Fitzsimmons that he had gone up to Baileyville for the sliding day and wanted, in return, to help out.
“That’s what neighbors do for neighbors,” said Fitzsimmons.