OWLS HEAD — August 20, 2023 is hereby known as Frank Ross Day in Owls Head, Maine.
On this day, at the finale of a celebration dinner in his honor, the longest serving fire chief in Knox County officially retired from 44 years as chief, having previously served five years as firefighter.
Ross won’t be going far. His fellow crew members have selected him to be Treasurer for the department. But even without Ross on scene, his presence has been permanently etched in the station, the town, the state, and even the country.
The newest fire truck, known formerly as Engine 1, will now rush to emergencies carrying Ross’ name in a dedication plaque on the side.
“I can tell you for a fact, when that tone went off, and it was a fire call, Frank was there,” said former firefighter Jim Philbrook, himself a 45-year member of OHFD. “You’ll never find a chief that will be 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Ross was totally dedicated to the town of Owls Head, according to Philbrook.
“That doesn’t happen very often, for this day in age,” he said. “They broke the mold when they made him. There’s going to be some big shoes to fill.”
Others have come to the same conclusion. When Ross started with OHFD in 1975, the fire department was not yet under municipal support; but it would be soon. He has been Owls Head’s Emergency Management Agency director since 1993, and through him, fire gear has greatly improved, according to Asst. Fire Chief John Gamage.
After Owls Head Select Board members Gordon Page, Linda Post and Thomas Von Malder expressed their heartfelt thanks to Ross for his dedication and to Ross’ family for their support and sacrifice, Ross was presented with a commendation from the 131st Maine Legislation – signed by the president of the House, the Speaker of the Senate, and introduced and sponsored by Senator Ann Matlack. Ross was then presented with an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol before making its way to Ross, courtesy of Angus King.
“We wish you a long and healthy retirement,” said Page, on behalf of the Select Board.
Congressman Jared Golden wrote a letter congratulating Ross on his retirement. Golden mentioned Ross’ work in bringing the E-911 system to Knox County and turning the volunteer fire company into a municipal department.
“You did your job every day with compassion and care, and looked after the folks in your community, often in difficult moments,” said Golden. “Congratulations and thank you for your tireless work serving your community.”
Along with mentioning several repeated acknowledgments of Ross, Chellie Pingree wrote “it is an honor to represent you.” And Senator Susan Collins wrote “throughout your remarkable career, you have embodied the true essence of a leader and mentor.”
OHFD firefighter DJ Pierce said the leader within himself is inspired by Ross’ leadership. Pierce recalled a time as a teenager when he and his father were first on scene to a brush fire on Ingraham Hill. Ross arrived on scene to take command, but let Pierce continue to participate.
“I’ll never forget that day. That was super special to me,” he said. “I want to thank Frank for being a mentor, a friend, and an overall excellent fire chief.”
“Chief Ross, you have been our rock for 44 years,” said Gamage. “You’ve encouraged us, scolded us, trained us, fought with us, cried with us, anguished with us. Lost sleep with us and celebrated with us countless times over the years,” said Gamage. “You’ve done your best to prepare us. You’ve donated hundreds of hours of free labor and materials to the town, resulting in incalculable savings to the taxpayers of our small town. The best way we can carry on with the example set for us is to try to do our personal best at each opportunity.”
Gamage said that everything Ross has done has been done with humility, grace, friendship and firm leadership.
Teary eyed (and likely a bit overwhelmed) by his fellow crew members’ sentiments, Ross had but a few words to say in response before adjourning the celebration.
“I’ve been so happy at this job,” said Ross. “It’s so rewarding.”
Members of the OHFD donated money to the event and some members prepared the food. Hazel’s restaurant also supported the event. In order to be ready for the 5 p.m. start time, the OHFD crew began preparations at 8:30 a.m.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org