WESTBROOK – In the summer, when the Westbrook Fire Department

runs its rookie training school for new recruits, Deputy Chief

Wayne Jones supervises while the newbies, in full turnout gear, cut

their way through vehicles to practice extrication. Eugene Dunn,

the longtime call captain, would sit on the tailboard, or the rear

platform of a fire truck, on those hot summer days when he

volunteered to help with the training sessions. While the rest of

the recruits, and even Jones himself, were sweating, he said, Dunn

was smiling, always smiling.

WESTBROOK – It goes without saying that anyone who dreams of becoming a firefighter has to be able to tolerate the heat.

In the summer, when the Westbrook Fire Department runs its rookie training school for new recruits, Deputy Chief Wayne Jones supervises while the newbies, in full turnout gear, cut their way through vehicles to practice extrication. The lessons take place outside, in the sun, sometimes in temperatures over 90 degrees.

According to Jones, Eugene Dunn, the longtime call captain, would sit on the tailboard, or the rear platform of a fire truck, on those hot summer days when he volunteered to help with the training sessions. While the rest of the recruits, and even Jones himself, were sweating, he said, Dunn was smiling, always smiling.

“He’s just sitting there, calmly on the tailboard,” Jones said. “We’re all just melting into our shoes, (but) he liked the heat.”

On Tuesday, Jones was among hundreds of mourners at St. Anthony’s Parish Church on Brown Street in Westbrook attending Dunn’s funeral. Dunn, 65, died Saturday at Mercy Hospital in Portland after a brief illness. Firefighters, family members and city officials all came to pay their respects. In addition to the Westbrook contingent, firefighters came from Scarborough, Gorham, Windham, and as far away as Wells. Among the city officials in attendance were City Councilor Paul Emery, City Clerk Lynda Adams, and School Committee member Suzanne Salisbury.

This is the second spiritual blow to the department in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the department bid farewell to retired Capt. Stanley Goff, who died on Jan. 31 after a car crash in Waterboro.

“It was a rough month,” Jones said Tuesday.

The department gave Dunn a full firefighter’s funeral, complete with a solemn parade to the church, including marching accompaniment by the Maine Public Safety Pipe and Drum Corps. The department capped the funeral Mass with a traditional “last alarm” radio call, and the ringing of a fire bell at the end of the ceremony.

Among the firefighters paying respect was Westbrook Capt. Randy Mitchell, who fought back tears as he recalled the man the entire department grew to know as “Grandpa Gene.” The display of black dress uniforms, complete with white gloves, Mitchell said, was a fitting tribute to a fallen firefighter.

“We’re a family,” he said. “It’s brotherhood, sisterhood, and it’s the ultimate show of respect.”

Dunn’s wife, Jo Anne Dunn, said Tuesday that the outpouring of support, while a bit “overwhelming,” was most welcome, and drove home the message that firefighters do function as a large extended family.

“You don’t really know about it until you experience it,” she said.

Mitchell, who knew Dunn personally and professionally for the past 20 years, said Dunn first earned the moniker “Grandpa” by endearing himself to area children. He was heavily involved in fundraising efforts that benefit children, such as toy drives, and assembling and delivering food baskets on Thanksgiving Day.

But Dunn’s years of experience in fire service earned him the respect of his firefighting colleagues, according to firefighter Rick Dorr.

“He was ‘Grandpa Gene’ to us (too),” he said.

Director of Public Safety Michael Pardue said he did not know Dunn long, but already respected his sense of duty.

“Gene always came to work with a sense of dedication, pride and commitment,” Pardue said. “You could tell it was a passion.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dunn lived in New York and Virginia before moving to Maine in 1985. He began his career in fire service while living in Virginia, as a volunteer for the Gloucester Fire Department. After moving to Maine, he served for 27 years with the Westbrook Fire Department.

Dunn was known for his warm sense of humor and for his willingness to speak his mind on occasion. Clyde Chapman, who retired from the department as a captain in 1999 after 33 years of service, said he remembered Dunn well. In particular, Chapman said, Dunn was always able to break the tension that sometimes lingered after firefighters returned from a call.

“After it was over, Gene was always the guy to bring the guys back into a lighter mood,” he said. “If you’re down, Gene would bring you up. He was that kind of guy.”

But, Chapman added, that mirth was only there after the call was over. There were no jokes out of Dunn, he said, while on the job.

“When that bell went off, he was all business,” Chapman said.

In addition to serving the city, Dunn also served in dispatch with Gorham, and also as a reserve police officer there. He was a security officer at Portland Jetport, a corrections officer at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and worked as a courtroom security officer with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

He also served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, and on Tuesday, an honor guard from the U.S. Air National Guard, based in Portsmouth, N.H., participated in the service, performing “Taps” on bugle during the funeral.

Fire Capt. Sam Webster said on days when Dunn worked at the station, Webster didn’t have to worry about seeing that the morning chores were done. He usually woke, he said, to find Dunn had already finished them, “because the man never slept.”

Webster said Dunn had a scanner at home, which he always left on, and that knowledge gave the department the impression of Dunn’s presence, even on days when Dunn wasn’t on duty.

“He was always listening,” Webster said.

Firefighters carry Eugene Dunn’s casket from St. Anthony’s
Church in Westbrook following the funeral. Dunn’s widow, Jo Anne
Dunn, follows the casket, carrying a folded American flag. (Staff
photos by Sean Murphy)
Eugene Dunn
The Westbrook Fire Department gave Eugene Dunn a full
firefighter’s funeral, complete with a solemn parade to the church,
including marching accompaniment by the Maine Public Safety Pipe
and Drum Corps. (Staff photo by Sean Murphy)


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