TOWNSEND — When firefighter James Misner attended the Fire Department Christmas party at Townsend Ridge Country Club a couple of weeks ago he was called to the podium by Chief Donald Klein.
He had just retired after 47 years of service.
“I thought they were going to honor me for retiring like they did with Dave Felice,” he said this week.
Instead, Misner was named Townsend’s Firefighter of the Year.
“It took me by surprise, although my daughter had told me to be sure to wear clean and wear my new uniform,” he said.
Klein said, “For me, Jim epitomizes the call volunteer firefighter for someone who put in so many years. He helped with many projects. He was always there. His dad was a Company 3 firefighter and as a kid (Jim) used to help keep the trucks up. Even now, he still comes down on Sunday mornings.”
The 10 year-old Misner would hang around the Harbor Fire Station’s Company 3 where his dad, Cedric, had been hired with the help of Charles Mickey Connor.
He remembers the company’ “chemical truck,” equipped with hand-held extinguishers that Roy Shepherd still runs in parades. That was replaced with a Diamond T 550, and then supplanted by Engines 3 and 4, both Macks, one of which is still a backup vehicle. New KME units now do the job, including the town’s newest, a ladder truck received this year and equipped with the latest gear including a generator and light tower big enough to illuminate a block, he said.
“Firefighting hasn’t changed much since the days when (former) Chief Hurme would train us Sunday mornings for two to three hours,” he said. “Today training is more technical with videos and an emphasis on chemicals. Houses used to be wood (without oil and plastic-based components) so chemical hazards weren’t a problem.”
Misner joined the Fire Department in 1962. When the new Harbor station was dedicated, it was he, as the eldest member of the department, who carried the flag from the old Harbor station (now operated by the forestry service) to the new one. He and former assistant chief Stephen Richards raised it on the pole.
Now 74, Misner and his wife, Barbara, are parents of three boys, one girl, grandparents to 12 and great grandparents to four children. He is a U.S. Army veteran, having served with the former 21st Infantry Division in Hawaii on an eight-inch artillery howitzer gun crew.
He has served as a second, then a first lieutenant and for one, year, and a captain on the Fire Department. He retired at that rank even though he had reverted to firefighter at age 72 due to the requirement for Fire Academy training and his age.
Misner is one of the talking encyclopedias of Townsend history and, as with most small towns, recollections center around personages, many of whom are firefighters. His vignettes offer a glimpse of the fire work that automation and computers have largely erased as well as the hobbies, jobs and homes of individual residents.
He grew up in the house next to his own built by his father with trees felled on the property. He, too, built his own home. Now a custodian at the high school, he worked for 44 years at the former Harvey’s, now Lakeview Nursery in Lunenburg. He has also been a janitor at Fitchburg High Trade School.
A large part of his life he worked in chicken coops “taking care of chickens for Mrs. LaFontaine and working with Dick Green of Barker Hill and Johnny Johnson of Ashby,” he said.
For years, Misner raised chickens for their eggs in a home-built coop in his yard until feed became too expensive to make a profit.
Two years ago, Misner was named Townsend’s recipient of Nashoba Publishing’s Extraordinary Service Award. He received his 45-year service pin the same year.
He plans to continue working as lead night custodian at North Middlesex Regional High School on the 3-to-11 shift in the foreseeable future. Barbara and he have suffered through a year of serious medical problems.
Although he no longer responds to fire calls, a scanner in the Misner’s kitchen keeps him informed of emergencies.
“The award was nice. He works hard,” Barbara said.
“I just enjoyed being able to do it (firefighting) with good people. I had many good times. It’s a good department,” Misner said.