“It’s just ‘Frank’ now’, says retiring fire chief

Owls Head, firefighting community to gather in celebration of Frank Ross

Sat, 07/29/2023 - 10:45am

    OWLS HEAD — Frank Ross picked up two junior firefighters as he drove down Ballyhac Road toward Otter Point. A downed tree on Dyer Point Road stopped their progress so they hopped out of Ross’ pickup truck and walked another 200 feet into the woods. According to Ross, the offending tree was the culprit that brought down an airplane, killing 17 out of 18 occupants and putting Owls Head on the map as the worst civil aircraft disaster in Maine history.

    The date was May 30, 1979, and Frank Ross had been fire chief for nine weeks.

    Memories abound for the longest serving fire chief in Knox County, beginning in March 1979 – and will continue in volunteer fashion for awhile yet. But after the August 28, 2023 Select Board meeting, Ross might seem more aggressive in refraining from responding to “Chief” as he passes the official white hat to a not-yet-determined replacement.

    Forty-four years of dedication is reflected everywhere in the fire station. He made the lockers that the firefighters’ gear hangs from, saving the Town at least $300 by building an apparatus far sturdier than the online version. He created his own high pressure washers when the store-bought kind proved too powerful. He’s jerry-rigged many, many pieces of equipment. And though he was just “Frank” in an interview ahead of an upcoming late August dinner celebration in his honor, he spent his time waiting for the reporter by measuring the station doors that he will be tending to soon.

    Ross claims that he doesn’t have firefighting in his blood. Educated as an automotive engineer, he likes to build things and fix things. As the owner of a business with a tractor, he likes to clear landscapes. (He jokes with resolve, “I don’t mow lawns and I don’t plant flowers.”).

    And, he likes people.

    Put those attributes together and a person might see what the wife of previous chief Elmer Small saw in 1979. Back then, two candidates were considered for the position. But Mrs. Small conducted a few phone calls, convincing those with a vote to go with Ross. The reason, according to Ross, is that the crew knew him, seeing as he’d already been there five years, and they didn’t really know the other guy.

    Regardless, the Ross before us now has accumulated a number of attributes on his own, beginning with the aftermath of that plane crash. OHFD was not prepared for such a disaster, said Ross. They didn’t have foam to cover fuel fires. They didn’t have a lot of airport-related training. And they didn’t have proper turnout gear. After that day, Ross made a point of acquiring for his department everything that was needed.

    And it isn’t just for Owls Head that Ross considered. When many people in a major Florida fire died in the late 70s because they couldn’t see the exit signs through the smoke, Ross created his own prototype of an exit sign with a flashing strobe light. Unfortunately, the cost of patenting and licensing grew too expensive and Ross backed out. The company that he’d shown the plans to took his idea and created the product on its own, according to Ross.

    Not continuing with that patent is a regret that Ross carries with him. But he has no regrets about people everywhere being granted that extra access to safety because of his idea.

    No, Ross didn’t join the fire service because of any inherent connection to smoke and hoses – his father and uncle were sheriff’s deputies (though his brother was a deputy fire chief for a time). When Ross enters the station’s garage, he claims to not feel any sense of being home. When asked what he smells, he says it must be the sweaty turnout gear.

    Ross is there because back in his youth, most young male residents took a turn volunteering with the fire department. It was, and continues to be, his civic duty.

    He doesn’t yell. He doesn’t get angry much.

    “Everyone makes mistakes,” he said.

    And many years ago when a regular visitor to the station started pointing out everything that needed fixing, going to the extent of tacking up numerous sticky notes to announce all the tasks that needed attention, Ross vowed to not be that way himself.

    He just wouldn’t enjoy it.

    Ross’ motto is: If you don’t enjoy your work, you shouldn’t do it.

    Members of Owls Head, along with members of the region’s firefighting community, will gather Sunday, Aug. 20, at the Maintenance garage at Knox County Regional Airport, for a dinner celebration in recognition of “Chief” aka Frank Ross. Reservations can be requested by emailing someonedial911@yahoo.com.


    Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com