Both the Westbrook and Gorham fire departments are in mourning this week after learning that Henry (Hank) Hamblen Jr., a longtime member of both departments, died of cancer Dec. 2.

Hamblen, 62, of Dingley Springs Road in Gorham, was a volunteer firefighter with the Gorham Fire Department for 39 years and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Westbrook Fire Department since 1987.

As could be expected from such a long career in public service, Hamblen had an impact on those he served and served with.

Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre praised Hamblen as a good paramedic who touched an untold number of lives.

“He was a great person,” a choked-up Lefebvre said before Tuesday’s Gorham Town Council meeting. “I never saw the man angry in 35 years.”

Gorham Town Councilor Shonn Moulton added, “He was a hero in my book.”

Hamblen had also worked for many years as a Gorham dispatcher for Gorham Police Chief Ronald Shepard.

“(He was an) excellent guy,” Shepard said after Tuesday’s council meeting. “His heart was in firefighting.”

Hamblen, said Westbrook Public Safety Chief Mike Pardue,“was really kind of an icon in the department. He was always a stabilizing force as far as sound judgment and someone you could always rely on.

“(It’s a) tremendous loss to our department,” Pardue added. “He will be terribly missed.”

Hamblen’s death comes during a difficult year for the Westbrook Fire Department, which has now seen three longtime members die in 2012. Westbrook firefighters Stan Goff and Gene Dunn both died earlier this year.

“It’s a tough time for us,” Pardue said.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton agreed that many would feel Hamblen’s loss.

“Whether fighting fires or delivering a baby, (his) many years of experience, education and friendship will be sorely missed by a grateful community,” she said.

In the days following his death, friends remembered Hamblen fondly.

“He was just one of those quiet, unsung heroes,” said Freeport Deputy Fire Chief Paul Conley, who worked with Hamblen in both Westbrook and Gorham. “A good firefighter, a good medic.”

But Conley also remembered Hamblen’s wit.

“He was a quiet guy, he kept to himself and he had a very dry sense of humor,” Conley said. “Every once in a while, he would come out with a good zinger.”

Westbrook City Councilor Mike Sanphy, a retired Westbrook police officer who also worked as a firefighter, called Hamblen a “great asset to Westbrook and Gorham.”

“(He was) a nice, nice guy, even tempered and a great paramedic, great firefighter,” Sanphy added. “Always there for you, a good friend.”

Speaking on behalf of the family on Tuesday night, Gorham Town Councilor Suzanne Phillips, who is married to Hamblen’s nephew, said “Uncle Hank” enjoyed traveling and “capturing memories with his camera at family gatherings and community events,” adding that his cooking would be remembered fondly, as well. “Anyone who knew Hank will miss his ‘Fire-Alarm chili,’” she said.

Phillips said Hamblen’s family was grateful for the community support they have received since Hamblen’s death.

“On behalf of the family, I want to thank the community for their outpouring of sympathy,” Phillips said.

He leaves behind his wife Debby and a large family.

“The hole is huge,” Lefebvre said of the community’s loss of Hamblen. “He’s one that will truly be missed.”

A wake for Hamblen will be held on Friday, Dec. 7, from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at the Dolby Funeral Chapel located at 434 River Road in Windham. Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Cressey Road United Methodist Church, Gorham, with a burial to follow at Hillside Cemetery on Houston Road in Gorham.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Hank’s memory be sent to the Gorham Fire and Rescue Department, 270 Main St., Gorham, Maine, 04038.

Reporter Robert Lowell also contributed to this story.

Henry (Hank) Hamblen Jr. was remembered this week as a local firefighting icon.    

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