As a freshman firefighter, Tom Higgins got to know his former boss, Robert Burke, because he was often sent out to pick up the fire chief and bring him to the station for work.
That arrangement — a freshman firefighter driving the chief to work — was a longstanding tradition for the Bangor Fire Department in the days before the chief had his own car. Burke, however, became the last Bangor fire chief to be driven to work.
“That’s a great memory for me,” said Higgins, now Bangor’s fire chief, “as a rookie firefighter getting to go pick up the chief.”
Burke died last Wednesday at the age of 82 from lung cancer.
He was born Aug. 29, 1936 in Bangor, where he lived his entire life, according to his obituary. He graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School and worked as a sharpshooter with the National Guard before joining the Bangor Fire Department in 1957.
Burke became fire chief in 1982, serving for eight years before retiring from the department in December 1990.
With Bangor behind him, Burke moved on to serve as chief of the Orono Fire Department until 1998, then headed to Old Town where he was chief for a year but was forced to resign due to illness.
Burke is survived by his wife of 43 years, Carolyn, three daughters, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with another on the way, according to his obituary.
Higgins described Burke as a “good leader, great personality.”
Even after Burke put his firefighting days behind him, Higgins said, he remained part of the fire department family by attending retirement parties for former colleagues. Higgins saw him at one such event just weeks before he died.
The funeral mass will be held at St. John Catholic Church on York Street in Bangor on Wednesday at 11 a.m.