The Golden Links Hall in Harrowsmith was packed with friends, family and well-wishers as Portland Dep. Fire Chief Bill Babcock officially retired Saturday night.
“Everybody knows that anyone who volunteers for 54 years — your heart has to be in it,” said Mayor Ron Vandewal.
Babcock’s tenure dates back to the Portland Fire Department days.
“Those are some pretty big boots to fill,” said Dep. Chief Stan Ritchie, who replaces Babcock.
“He was a mentor to myself and every other firefighter,” said firefighter Kyle Reynolds. “We’ll deeply miss him coming through the door.”
Firefighter Ellen Steele read a letter from another firefighter who wished to remain anonymous.
“He was inspiring and made us feel safe,” the letter said. “And we won’t have him to go to when we need to know where somebody lives.
“He often said (things like): ‘I’ll be that’s Bob’s place, he lives around there.’”
When it was Babcock’s own turn to speak, he pretty much stole the show.
After thanking firefighters past and present, wives, kids and families, as well as the businesses who supported efforts to raise funds for things like the jaws of life and 4X4s, Babcock launched into one of the more entertaining retirement speeches in memory.
“We’ve gotten cats out of trees, a cow out of a frozen pond and a horse out of a swimming pool in winter,” he said. “It was a helluva ride.”
He told a story of one call, which may or may not have been true, given the glint in his eye.
“A fella calls dispatch,” he said. “He tells dispatch ‘you gotta come, my house is on fire.
“The dispatcher thinks for a minute and says, ‘how will they get there?’
“And the fella says ‘do they not still have all those big red trucks?’”
He summed things up by saying “Now I can sleep all night through and do what I want all day.”