Vinalhaven’s Cap Conway retires after 64 years of knocking down fires
VINALHAVEN – He had stood there, on the ice, only two days after telling current fire chief Marc Candage that he’d be out of service for awhile after knee surgery.
Having knocked down the structure fire, Candage stepped from the building, saw Cap and Cap’s cane and dark glasses. Candage shook his head, and quietly questioned Cap’s safety and sanity.
Yet, with a firefighting background stretching back 64 years, no one questions Clarence ‘Cap’ Conway’s dedication.
On Sunday, July 8, Cap retired, officially. His retirement party drew community members as well as delegates from the Maine State Firefighters Association representing Woolwich, Hope, Cushing, Rockport, Mexico and Waldoboro.
In actuality, Conway started talking of retirement back in October, but it’s hard to get party guests to Vinalhaven in the wintertime, according to his daughter, Jean.
Those winter months allowed the family, the department, the town, to know whether Cap truly meant to hang up his helmet.
“It’s not a career. It’s not a job. Nor is it a hobby,” Conway once told MSFF President Ken Desmond. “It’s the passion that I have for being a firefighter.”
Without a doubt, he has passion, and it spread to his family, to his friends, and to many others.
Jean, years ago and new to the department, once learned of a car accident and thought that her daughter was in the wreck. Jean ran down the street, still wearing the new dress she’d been trying on.
“I got there and my father said: ‘Damn it, you’re a firefighter. Get out there and do your job,’” she said.
The Conway motto, according to Jean: “Fire first, family second.”
It’s the dedication. The missed holidays. The sleepless nights. The workshops and conferences all over Maine (as Arthur Kiskila, of Cushing, shared stories about), as well as the opening of house and home to firefighter trainers from the mainland (as Rockport’s Bruce Woodward experienced).
“For Knox County, there is no doubt in my mind that not only Vinalhaven, but all of Knox County, and the State of Maine, that the fire service is a much better place because of that dedication,” Hope Fire Chief Clarence Keller said.
Conway has held every position within the department since 1953, though, as he would say, “I’ve been here for a minute or two.”
And in that “minute or two” he has attended every training, every meeting, every call that he could possibly attend.
He was 18 when he started. Back then, the crew drove a 1939 ‘old truck,’ according to Conway.
The Coast Guard brought in a gallon-a-minute pump and put that on the end of the truck. Then, about two years later, the town provided them with a 1948 truck that the department added a 500-gallon pump to that as well.
“When you live on an island, you have to invent,” he said.
Some notable fires during Conway’s era:
1956 – Jack’s Restaurant
1959 – Medical Center/ MacIntosh Grocery
1967 – Masonic Building/ A&P Store
1971 – The Vinalhaven School
1979 – The Islander Inn
As a teen, off his military base one day and heading home with his military friend of three months, the pair came upon a house fire. Clarence said, “Let’s go!” the friend said during the retirement party. There were no firemen around, just the guy who’d brought the truck and was preparing to roll out the hoses.
Clarence said, “we’ll do it.” So the two of them, in a pouring rain storm, without jackets, put the fire out.
“That was probably his first fire,” his friend said.
From then on, he was a firefighter.
Sarah Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org