History of Farmington Fire Department a ‘labor of love’

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"History of the Farmington Fire Department 1850-2000" by the late-Robert McCleery, who served as fire chief from 1977-2000, was released Thursday. The book was complied, edited, and updated by McCleery's daughter, Ruth Watson. (Courtesy photo)

FARMINGTON — A new book, “History of the Farmington Fire Department 1850-2000” by former Farmington Fire Chief Robert L. McCleery was released on Thursday.

The book is a labor of family love. According to his daughter, Ruth Watson of Carrabassett Valley, McCleery compiled much of the history by hand, filling stacks of legal notepads. His wife, Edith, typed the manuscript on a 1990 Apple computer. When Robert passed away in 2002, Edith was not able to continue with the project and felt someday it could be turned over to the fire department.

Watson said everything, including notes filling in gaps of history, was stored away in a plastic tote where it stayed until early 2017.

“Mom has been gone seven years. I felt pretty strongly this work would get lost. My goal was to someday open the container and go through the information,” Watson said.

Two years ago Watson and her husband, Bill, moved full-time from Connecticut to their Sugarloaf home. It was then that she was able to get down to business and began reviewing the notes, newspaper clippings and manuscript.

“I wanted dad’s work to be complete,” noted Watson.

Watson spent untold hours researching in an effort to source as much of the information as possible. She delved into town reports and gathered the names of firefighters shown in photographs.

With the help of many people, including Town Manager Richard Davis, Chief Terry Bell and Deputy Chief Clyde Ross, Watson was able to fill in the blanks and update information for 2000-2017.

“This is about firefighters, not about my father,” Watson pointed out.

The book includes a chronological history of apparatus purchases, fire events, and people who have served and supported the department. The facts are supported with more than 250 photos, articles and charts. McCleery included personal insights and a touch of humor to his manuscript.

An overview of department history from 2000 to 2017 is also included, courtesy of Ross.

“This book is about the greater Franklin County area and includes information about surrounding towns such as Jay, New Sharon, Phillips and Strong,” noted Watson.

Included are details of fire calls, including 1984 mutual aid response to Hammond Road in East Wilton where two people lost their lives. Details of a mutual aid response to a 1971 fire which destroyed 10 businesses and four homes on Beal Block on Main Street in Phillips are also included.

“The official mutual aid agreement was written by my father with the oversight of the town manager,” Watson stated.

A photo of McCleery adorns the front of the dust jacket. Watson said the photo was taken by the late-Barbara Yeaton during a live fire training session in 1992.

Watson explained, “The photo is appropriate because dad was all about training to become better, safer firemen.”

Watson included a photo of the 1950 department on the back of the dust jacket. Only after the book was printed did she realize every fire chief to serve from 1923 to 2000 was included on the cover.

“It is very cool they are all there, including the longest-serving chief, Victor Huart with 28 years, and the shortest-serving chief, Ambrose Compton with 15 minutes,” said Watson.

Copies of the book will be available at the Farmington Fair. Watson will have copies in the Exhibition Hall Tuesday, Sept 18 and Thursday, Sept. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The books will also be available throughout the fair at the Farmington Fire Department booth, Farmington Grange booth and the Red School House. They can also be purchased at Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers, 193 Broadway. The cost of the 330-page hardcover book is $29.95.

“This is the most complete record about the Farmington Fire Department available and is a wonderful research document for anyone looking for fire department history,” said Watson.

For more information, email Watson at chiefdaughter477@gmail.com.

dmenear@thefranklinjournal.com

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