Updated About Town: A Fond Farewell
To Fire Chief William Middlemiss.
Here are a few more pictures of last night's farewell event at the Depot, held for Chief William Middlemiss.
I'll also offer a few words from Abby Jordan, patch associate editor and Lexington's former editor. We had coffee at Starbucks yesterday and she offered these words.
"In the year that I worked in Lexington, Chief Middlemiss was always kind, helful and informative -- even when I had to ask the tough questions."
She and Patrick enjoyed working with Chief Middlemiss.
Posted at 5:45 a.m. this morning...
Lexington Depot was surrounded last night by brilliant red fire trucks and chief-driven SUVs. Inside state and local officials, friends, family, Lexington firefighters and fire chiefs from at least a dozen other cities and towns gathered to bid farewell to Chief William Middlemiss.
Some called him "Bill” or “Billy,” his children called him “Dad.” In Lexington we called him “Chief.” It was a well-earned prefix – especially after hearing his accomplishments as a firefighter in Lawrence, at the Fire Marshall’s Office and here in Lexington.
After 10 years here he’s retiring, and his only plans are enjoying the summer with his wife Mary and his children, Mary Catherine and young Bill.
An afternoon interview at the fire station and last night’s poignantly sad soiree made it clear we’re losing a vital piece of our executive management team.
“Bill was able to bring the Fire Department forward by 20 years during his 10-year tenure – because of his leadership, calm demeanor, patience, high ethical standards, knowledge and professionalism,” said Town Manager Carl Valente before handing him a gold badge, his chief’s helmet and a flag that’s flown over the Battle Green. “He has been an asset to the town that we will never be able to repay.”
I’d have to agree – and so did everyone there.
Chief Middlemiss was second-generation firefighter. His father, Ernest J. Middlemiss was a Lawrence firefighter.
“I was fortunate,” Middlemiss said during our interview. “I worked with him for five years. Shortly after his retirement he passed away.”
Some who took the podium last night shared the chief's personal accomplishments, while others spoke of the space he leaves.
Sen. Ken Donnelly, D-Arlington, was a Lawrence firefighter and worked with Chief Middlemiss early in his career. Middlemiss excelled in fire prevention work and brought that to Lexington, Donnelly said.
“[Being chief], it’s never an easy job,” Donnelly said. “A lot of arrows are being shot at you.”
They were arrows he bore well, because he never said a bad word about anyone.
State Rep. Jay Kaufman, D-Lexington, presented a proclamation signed by him and state Rep. Thomas Stanley, D-Waltham – after making everyone laugh over his concern that we might be breaking the fire code with too many people inside.
It seems wherever he went, Middlemiss’s contributions were exemplary.
State Fire Marshall Steve Coan spoke of their early firefighting days in Lawrence, or what he said was “the arson capital of the world.” Later Middlemiss served as Fire Marshall Office’s senior code enforcement officer.
Middlemiss was injured a few times fighting those Lawrence fires – and was decorated for his bravery.
One cold New Year’s Eve in 1986, he was blown out of a third-story window. He spent close to a month in Mass General Hospital’s burn unit. On July 4, 1994, he was hit on the head and suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Sounds like life here was safer – for the most part.
I asked Chief Middlemiss for the most memorable events in Lexington. He had two, but said first, “We had a lot of incidents here. This is a much busier community than people would think.”
His most memorable was the gas explosion “and the 19 days that followed.
"We didn’t lose any lives, but there were a couple of minor injuries,” he said as he leaned back into an office chair.
He and then-Police Chief Chris Casey tried to decide on the best action. Finally, he ordered the gas company to turn off the high-pressure system until he knew residents here were safe.
“Safety first,” he said. “That was the thought process throughout the entire event.”
He also recalls the Hancock condo fire one Halloween a few years ago. No lives were lost there either.
“I was at home raking leaves,” he said. Once notified he came from his Methuen home to the fire. By the time he arrived the fire was so bad he ordered a third and fourth alarm.
Carl is right – a lot of changes were made by Chief William Middlemiss. He’s made apparatus upgrades for the personal protection of the firefighters
“ALS (Advanced Life Support) services were in its infancy when I took over,” he said. “If you call an ambulance 99.9 percent of the time a full paramedic is at your doorstep.”
There’s so much more – and one has to wonder how much more he might have done. But he's pragmatic.
“It’s time,” he said. “It’s been an honor to work here and lead these guys. Naturally, I’ve made mistakes. That happens. But, I believe the department is much better off than when I came here."
Everyone else thinks so too.
“In Bill’s letter to me announcing his retirement, he said that, of his 34 years in the fire service, no one moment was more rewarding that his last 10 years serving the town of Lexington," Carl said. "I think it was this community that was rewarded by your passion for public service."
Selectmen Chairman Hank Manz echoed Carl’s sentiments.
“We want you to know we appreciate what you have given up to do this job,” Hank said. “We wish we had a few more years.”
Yes, we do …
These are the Fire Department chiefs who attended last night’s event: John O’Brien, Melrose; David Frizzell, Belmont; Mike McLaughlin, Stow; Bob Leary, Weymouth; Charlie Foley, Randolph; Paul Tortolano, Woburn; Bill Dolan, retired, North Andover; Mark Cotreau, Concord; Arthur Cotoni, Lincoln; George Rogers, Bridgewater, Frank Giliberti, Medford; Paul Buckley, Needham; and State Fire Marshall Steve Coan.