When the fire trucks were backing into the new Bramhall Station back in 1966, they had an unusually interested observer. James P. Fox, then 15, was a West End resident with Down syndrome, a developmental disability which in those days usually meant a life of isolation.

Fox was lucky, however, and his family encouraged him to go to school and get a job with Goodwill Industries, and let him explore his neighborhood. He made visits to the firehouse a daily event.

It would have been easy for the firefighters to shoo the young man away, but they didn’t. Instead they made him part of the family, with generations of firefighters keeping the tradition.

We know much more about developmental disabilities today than we did in 1966. We are much more aware of the benefit of community involvement in the quality of life of people like Fox, and their ability to be productive members of society. The firefighters may not have known about that research, but they knew what was right and over the years they included Fox in their daily lives and celebrations.

He attended their weddings and retirement parties and was the guest of honor at his own birthday parties, which were stretched so that every shift could participate.

On May 22, Jim Fox died at the age of 59, long past the expected life span of a man with his condition. His family credited his longevity to his active and engaged life, including his close connection to the Fire Department.

When his hearse drove by Congress Street Wednesday, it was honored by the men and women of the Portland Fire Department in full dress uniform. It was a tribute to the man they called their honorary deputy chief, but also to the community that embraced him, starting way back in 1966.