2017-07-20 / Front Page

End of an era

Firefighter retires after full career
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Fire Capt. Norman Melancon celebrated 42 and a half years with the Biddeford Fire Department Wednesday, July 12. Melancon said he might work as a bouncer at The Brunswick in Old Orchard beach once the summer is over. He said his size and stature make him a natural fit for the job. (Grant McPherson photo) Fire Capt. Norman Melancon celebrated 42 and a half years with the Biddeford Fire Department Wednesday, July 12. Melancon said he might work as a bouncer at The Brunswick in Old Orchard beach once the summer is over. He said his size and stature make him a natural fit for the job. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – The Biddeford Fire Department has retired a seminal member of the force it won’t soon forget. Fire Capt. Norman Melancon rode home in a fire truck for the last time Wednesday, July 12 after a cookout in his honor at the fire station.

Melancon said he joined the Biddeford Fire Department in January 1975 after learning his grandfather, Arthur, who died before he could meet him, worked for the Biddeford Fire Department for 20 years. Melancon said when he began there were no smoke detectors or fire prevention systems, adding that building codes and inspections have improved considerably since the 1970s. Melancon said today the fire department’s job is more emergency medical services than firefighting. He said patients make it to the emergency room largely in part to the advanced life support in ambulances.


Fire Chief Scott Gagne, left, and Norman Melancon at the conclusion of Wednesday’s retirement party. Melancon was given an American flag that had been flying above the station for the previous week. Gagne said Melancon can be intimidating but has a big heart. (Grant McPherson photo) Fire Chief Scott Gagne, left, and Norman Melancon at the conclusion of Wednesday’s retirement party. Melancon was given an American flag that had been flying above the station for the previous week. Gagne said Melancon can be intimidating but has a big heart. (Grant McPherson photo) “We have some of the best paramedics in the state, bar none,” Melancon said.

Melancon said he will miss the 10 men under his command the most and will take the summer off before he decides what’s in his future. His son was married last month, his daughter will be married the end of this month and his own 62nd birthday was July 16.

“There’s so much going on I haven’t even had a chance to think what I want to do next,” he said.

Paul Froman, a paramedic under Melancon’s command, said he was initially intimidated by Melancon’s size and loud voice. The more he worked for Melancon the more he learned he cared about the men on his shift. Froman said Melancon supported the mental health of the people around him even before post-traumatic stress disorder was better understood and discussed.

“He comes off as tough but he really does care,” Froman said.

Froman said the captain replacing Melancon is well versed in firefighting, but there’s no replacing 42 and a half years of experience. Melancon and other seasoned fire fighters can look at buildings downtown and explain the history most people don’t remember today. Froman said Melancon’s retirement is a huge loss and he will be missed.


Top, from left, Deputy Chief Kevin Duross, Assistant Chief Paul LaBrecque, Chief Scott Gagne and Capt. Norman Melancon. Melancon was presented with a golden badge for his numerous years of service to the Biddeford Fire Department. The firefighters under Melancon’s command presented him with a signed photo of themselves as well. Left, Melancon was given one last ride in a fire truck Wednesday afternoon after his retirement party. The fire department planned to signal over the radio that Melancon had returned home safely. (Courtesy photo, Grant McPherson photo) Top, from left, Deputy Chief Kevin Duross, Assistant Chief Paul LaBrecque, Chief Scott Gagne and Capt. Norman Melancon. Melancon was presented with a golden badge for his numerous years of service to the Biddeford Fire Department. The firefighters under Melancon’s command presented him with a signed photo of themselves as well. Left, Melancon was given one last ride in a fire truck Wednesday afternoon after his retirement party. The fire department planned to signal over the radio that Melancon had returned home safely. (Courtesy photo, Grant McPherson photo) “He’s known in the community as the captain, he’s been here so long,” Froman said.

Froman said the Biddeford Fire Department now has a 25-year retirement plan, which allows employees to fully retire after 25 years of service. Funding retirement is constantly in flux depending on procedures within state and city budgets. Froman said one reason the number of years until retirement was reduced was because cancer rates are higher among firefighters. He said few people can maintain a career for as long as Melancon has.

“You won’t see people working beyond 25 or 20 years,” Froman said. “It takes such a toll.”

Froman said Melancon’s career has been an inspiration. He said Melancon supported him to go back to school.

“He’s always encouraging people to better themselves,” Froman said.

Fire captain Justin Cooper, who will take over for Melancon, worked for Melancon almost his entire career, which has set a tone of respect from the very beginning. Cooper said Melancon’s skills as a leader empowered coworkers while he efficiently delegated responsibilities.

“By being calm and comfortable in charge he allows his employees to grow and prosper under him,” Cooper said.

Cooper said Melancon’s first priority was always to his people and his second was to the administration. Melancon struggled a few years when the city didn’t support the fire department as much as he would have liked.

“During the short time when things weren’t good, it tore at him,” Cooper said.

Cooper is honored to take over Melancon’s position. He said there was no better feeling than making Melancon happy after safely putting out a difficult fire. Cooper said for 42 and a half years Melancon has brought his team together and instilled a sense of pride in his men and women.

“Without reservation or doubt he takes care of everybody ahead of self and family,” Cooper said. “It’s awe-inspiring.”

Fire Chief Scott Gagne said he started as a private assigned to Melancon’s shift and worked with him for almost 12 years. Gagne said Melancon is able to look past what he wants and advocate for the people in his department. Melancon instilled in him the values of right and wrong.

“Right is not always the easiest, but it’s the one that needs to be done,” Gagne said.

Once Melancon put his mind to something he wouldn’t rest until the task was completed. Gagne said the department will lose out not having Melancon on board. Gagne said when Melancon was in a burning building, he knew the men with him were safe.

“Knowing Norm was the one I was talking to on the radio, I was much more comfortable as chief officer,” Gagne said.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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