He led a long and productive life, despite having to overcome the limitations of Down syndrome.

His family credits the Portland Fire Department, and especially the bonds he formed with firefighters at Bramhall Station, with helping to extend his life.

James P. “Jim” Fox died Saturday at Portland’s Barron Center, with his family by his side. Mr. Fox, who lived for many years in Portland and more recently in South Portland, was 59.

His brother said the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome is their late 40s.

“The big thing about Jim and our family is that (Down syndrome) really didn’t present challenges. It presented opportunities,” said his older brother, Jack Fox of South Portland. “It was life. It was what we grew up with.”

Mr. Fox was born in Portland on Dec. 12, 1951, the son of a Portland pediatrician, Dr. Francis H. Fox, and his wife, Catharine Cahill Fox.

Fox described his parents as pioneers because they had to forge a future for a disabled child born at a time when things such as mainstreaming children into public schools was unheard of. They had five children.

Mr. Fox attended the Pride Training School, a school for severely disabled children in South Portland. He graduated in 1971.

“My mother used to say to us, we take each day as it comes and we treat each child as an individual,” Fox said. “That’s how we were brought up.”

Mr. Fox lived with his parents at their home in Portland’s West End neighborhood.

After his father died, Mr. Fox’s mother cared for him from 1980 to 1995. After she died, he moved into his brother’s South Portland home in 1995.

The West End was a good place to grow up because he got to explore all the neighborhood’s offerings, including a new fire station under construction on Congress Street.

Mr. Fox was present in 1966 when firefighters backed their trucks into the new Bramhall Station. “He never left (the fire station),” his brother said.

Mr. Fox became friends with the firefighters who worked at Bramhall, a friendship that spanned more than three generations of firefighters.

“It’s a phenomenon that is very difficult to describe, the interactions he had and the friends he made from generation to generation of firefighters,” his brother said.

When a firefighter got married, Mr. Fox went to the wedding. He went snowmobiling with them and assisted them with building a new house.

“The involvement in their lives was true and it was legitimate,” his brother said. “They welcomed him in, but Jim was the one who opened the door.”

Each December, on his birthday, Bramhall Station would celebrate with a feast, but there wasn’t just one party. It turned into four parties each year — one to accommodate each of the four shifts of firefighters who worked there.

“The birthday dinners and the cakes were huge,” his brother said. “And it lasted the entire week because every shift threw Jim a party.”

In 2003, during a Portland Fire Department awards banquet, Mr. Fox was named Honorary Deputy Chief.

Instead of accepting the award quietly, Fox remembers hearing the moans and the “oh nos” from the crowd of 200 people as his brother walked toward the podium and started to speak.

“Jim gave the most heartwarming acceptance speech I have ever heard … it was special,” Fox said.

Fox encourages anyone who wants to make a contribution in his brother’s memory to do so by sending a check to the James Fox Memorial Fund, in care of the Portland Fire Department, 380 Congress St., Portland, Maine 04101.

Fox said department officials have told him the funds will go toward purchasing thermal imaging equipment, which is used to find people trapped inside burning buildings.

Fox said he remembers taking his brother to see his doctor about five years ago.

“Jim’s doctor looked at me and said, ‘You know, Jim has beaten the odds,’ ” Fox said, a reference to his age. “He beat them big time.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]