Kittery Fire Capt. Bill Paisley, left, shares a moment with Chief David O'Brien celebrating the captain's 50 years of service to the department. Credit: Karen Dandurant | Portsmouth Herald

The Kittery Fire Department members pulled off the perfect surprise party, when they decided to celebrate one of their own.

Capt. William “Bill” Paisley has been on the Kittery Fire Department for 50 years, and he has no immediate plans to retire. With the help of his wife Marie, department members planned a party that was kept a secret from the captain.

When his wife brought him to Warren’s Lobster House, presumably to have dinner, the look of pure surprise on his face said it all. He had no idea. That look was quickly replaced with a beaming smile as family and friends rushed to greet him.

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The 50-year party was in no way a retirement party.

“My philosophy is that this is not a job where you pick and choose what you do,” said Paisley. “I have set no specific date to retire. My health is good, and I have come to know my limitations. I can’t do all I used to and that bothers me sometimes. But I guess that as long as I am an asset and not a liability, I will keep doing what I love.”

Paisley comes from a firefighter family, going back generations.

“If you ask me why be a firefighter; I’d have to say I don’t really know the answer,” said Paisley. “Part of it is that my dad, and his dad were firefighters. My dad, Ken, was on the department for 53 years. My brother John, and his kids John and Craig are firefighters. I have a nephew Brian on the Bangor department. I guess it could be in my blood.”

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Marie and Bill have been married for 48 years, together for 50. She said she has never regretted a day.

“I spoke to his parents,” said Marie. “I knew what I was getting into. I knew I could fix a meal and he might leave in the middle of it. I knew we might be planning a camping trip and leaving could be delayed if there was a call.”

“She is very patient,” said Paisley.

Marie said that after 50 years, her husband doesn’t run as fast.

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“But he still gets up at night for a fire,” said Marie. “He does it in snowstorms and all conditions. It’s what he does.”

“When I joined the department, I had to get on a waiting list,” said Paisley. “Someone had to leave before I could join.”

There are always good stories when you are a firefighter.

“One time we responded to a fire at the old Fisherman’s Pier restaurant,” said Paisley. “It is not there anymore. Well, it was a very cold night. A couple of us placed the hose lines. The water ran down past my boots and they froze to the ground. A couple of guys had to lift me up, out of my boots.”

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The first thing his colleagues inevitably said about Paisley is that he is always there. He comes to every fire no matter what time it happened, volunteers for pancake breakfasts, school visits and anything else the department needs.

Fire Chief David O’Brien said Paisley no longer goes into burning buildings, but he knows every piece of equipment and every protocol the department has.

“Bill is a guy who see things one way,” said O’Brien. “We call it the ‘Captain’ way. We may try to show that there are other ways to get things done, but most of the time we eventually return to the Captain’s way. Besides, he has me beat. I have only been on the department for 45 years.”

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Lindy Higgins, who retired from the department in 1999 has known Paisley since they were in the first grade.

“We have been best friends ever since,” said Higgins. “He joined the fire department a bit ahead of me and it was him who got me an application. I applied May 4, 1969 and we were like brothers from then on. We trained together, worked calls together and moved up the ranks together. We shared unbelievable stories and experiences.”