WILTON — After years of service to not only Wilton but also Strong and Phillips, Wilton Fire Department recently honored Deputy Chief Kendall Burdin for his 47-years of firefighting service with a Life Time Achievement Award.
Starting at an early age, Burdin now 64, followed his mentor, his father Mac Burdin of Strong, into a long dedicated stint of public service to his town. His father was a selectman and chief of the Strong Fire Department for many years, he said.
Burdin is now a mentor to the members of Wilton Fire Department, said Chief Sonny Dunham. Training new drivers and those learning to pump, he's well-liked by young people and all members.
“He's dedicated and the best driver and pump operator we've had. He's an asset to the Wilton area,” Dunham said of the more than 40 years of service to Wilton, more than 25 of those years spent as assistant chief and now deputy chief.
Burdin attended a Tuesday firefighter's meeting and is kept abreast of what's going on but has retired from active duty after becoming ill in December and learning that it was a terminal disease in April, said his wife, Anne, on Wednesday.
“He listens to the tones and he's just aching to be there,” she said. “It's always been his 'second love' but we're very proud of him.”
Burdin's goal this week is to help lead the Blueberry Festival parade Saturday in the department's 1929 Model A fire truck, which he modestly said he “had a hand” in restoring and keeping.
He also plans to shoot the starting gun for the Firemen's Muster events planned for 1 p.m. on Main Street. He has served as president of the Central Maine Firemen's Muster Association, which organizes musters for events like the Clam and Moxie festivals and Farmington Fair.
His service also includes duties as a past president and treasurer of the Franklin County Firemen's Association and chairman of the Learn not to Burn program that raises funding for school and community fire prevention education.
Over those years of service, Burdin has seen several changes including more “rules and regulations” that can make it hard to maintain a volunteer call force.
“We tell new applicants what we expect and that they need to commit to this many hours when they have to be here,” he said.
Another challenge he's seen over the years is the manpower available to respond to calls during the day.
“When I worked at Bass, we could get 15 men from Bass and another five or six from Forsters,” he said. With the loss of manufacturing, more people commute out of town leaving less to respond.
Before air packs allowed firefighters inside a structure, they responded with a “surround and drown” philosophy that left firefighters described as “chimney savers,” he said. With modern tactics, more is left and with a little renovation, property owners can often keep their homes.
In the early days, street clothes were a firefighter's outfit, then came hot, rubber raincoats that kept the heat in, but now with gear and air packs, a firefighter adds on 60 pounds, he said.
“It's been something I enjoyed doing and a way to give back to the community,” Burdin said. It has also taken a lot of love and support from his family who understand it's a “big part of his life.”
One daughter, out of three daughters, and one son became a certified firefighter. The daughter worked with her father in Wilton before her marriage, he said.
Now the community has rallied giving back to him, Anne said.
“We've been surrounded by love and support,” she added explaining how many have e-mailed her expressing one wish, “tell Kendall thank you” for his years of service.