Robert Lefebvre has wrapped up 36 years as fire chief in Gorham. Robert Lowell / American Journal

GORHAM — A teenager was on board Westbrook Rescue’s very first run a half century ago and the high school student witnessed a gruesome scene.

The unit had responded to a collision on Methodist Road in Westbrook. A drunk driver had hit the car of a family returning home from a drive-in movie. The mother was killed as was the drunk driver and five others were taken to the hospital.

That horrific accident was the first of many of what would be teenager Robert Lefebvre’s decades in the fire and rescue service. Now 68, he retired last week as Gorham’s fire chief.

Lefebvre became Gorham’s part-time fire chief in 1984 and the position became full time in 1987.

“It seems like I just started yesterday morning,” Lefebvre said five days before leaving his office in Gorham’s Central Station for the final time. He said in an earlier interview that he plans to relax and have a stress-free retirement.

The search is underway for his successor.

Robert Lefebvre File photo

Lefebvre, who has lived in Gorham 40 years, reflected on his 51-year career in the fire and rescue service.

Old-time fire whistles still blew when Lefebvre became chief in Gorham, but they were later silenced by technology when pagers instead called firefighters to action. He has witnessed the coming of computers and portable radios.

The level of training was also a notable change during his tenure, he said, and he lauded Gorham town managers and town councilors for providing the funding.

“This department has been a leader in training,” he said. “It’s constant training.”

Other big changes include breathing apparatuses and protective clothing.

“Today, everything the guys wear is flame retardant. Fireproof gloves,” he said.

While Gorham has supported its fire and rescue department with the purchase of new equipment, good equipment without good people is “not worth a plug nickel. I’ve had good people,” Lefebvre said. “This department has some of the best there is.”

He reeled off a few memorable fires during his tenure, including the Mosher barn fire, former Sanborn Farm fire in South Gorham and the Gorham House of Pizza fire. And there were scary moments when fuel tankers loaded with gasoline and heating fuel rolled over at a roundabout, he said.

He had to prepare for any scenario, from river rescues to fires in the the largely rural town.

“A woods fire could have a big impact on homes, if it got away from us,” he said.

Lefebvre fought for the town to enact a sprinkler ordinance for homes. He listed that as his biggest accomplishment.

He also spearheaded a drive for the firefighters’ memorial in a courtyard outside Central Station.

“It’s important to remember those who came before us,” he said.

He spoke of the sacrifice firefighters and rescue personnel have made, and their families, too. Responders are often called away from important family functions, like birthday parties for their kids, he said.

“I say ‘thank you’ to the families,” he said.

And, his message to the Gorham community as a whole: “Thank you for the 36 great years.”

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