Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow says he is “really honored to be a part of” his family’s legacy of service. File photo

After 46 years of service, including two decades as chief, Michael Thurlow will retire from the Scarborough Fire Department Jan. 7.

“He’s very deserving of all sorts of distinction and recognition,” said Town Manager Tom Hall, adding that even when Thurlow was a volunteer in the call company, he was always a leader.

Thurlow joined the Pine Point Fire Company on his 16th birthday in 1976, the day he became eligible, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Very early on in his career, Thurlow performed CPR on someone with whom he grew up with.

“It’s things like that. Being able to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Thurlow said. “That sticks with you and keeps you in this business more so than the big fires or bad accidents.”

As a lifelong resident of the community, Thurlow has seen Scarborough change dramatically throughout his life of service.

“The town has grown explosively,” he said.

He estimated that, when he first joined, the department went out on less than 1,000 calls per year. Now, the department responds to over 4,300 per year.

In 2015, Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow was named Fire Chief of the Year by the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association. File photo

“It’s been crazy this summer,” he said. “There’s been times when we’ve done more than 25 calls in a single day.”

The department’s culture also is different.

“The biggest thing that’s changed in my tenure is the whole way the department was organized,” he said.

When he began his service, the fire companies were made up of volunteers.

“In those days, the department was limited to 340 members, and there were actually that many volunteers,” he said. “Today, that number is down to a little over 50.”

In addition to 55 volunteers, the department now has 38 full-time and 86 part-time employees, he said.

In 2015 Thurlow, nominated by Hall, won the Fire Chief of the Year award from the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.

The next chief has some big boots to fill, but Hall said he has time to find the right fit.

“True to form, Mike wanted to make sure he gave me adequate notice. That’s exactly the sort of man he is,” he said.

Hall, who is also working to replace town police Chief Robert Moulton, who retired in July after more than 40 years with that department, said he will recruit for the fire chief’s job, but he encourages internal applications.

“We’ve got some talented folks in-house,” he said, and if an internal candidate wins the job, it will be with the knowledge that they had been  “compared to the best out there.”

From Thurlow’s grandfather, who fought the Great Fires of 1947, to his son, who briefly joined the fire department before becoming a police officer, the Thurlow family has a legacy of four generations in public safety.

“It’s something I’m really honored to be a part of,” he said.

He doesn’t believe he deserves all of the credit for his success.

“Sometimes retirements like this are focused on one person,” he said. “This is a team sport. None of the success I’ve had at this department is attributed to me … we’ve got a lot of folks who do great work each and every day.”

That’s what he is most proud of in his 46 years of service, he said, the department, and the people in it, that he is leaving behind.

“People don’t leave here when they come, it’s a great atmosphere. We have a community who supports us and the folks who come to work here really enjoy working here,” he said. “That’s something I’m really proud of.”

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