Peru Fire Chief Bill Hussey is retiring after leading the department for 35 years. A reception will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Town Office. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

PERU — Bill Hussey, who has served as town fire chief since 1987, is retiring.

“I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” he said.

After leading the department for 35 years and having some health issues it’s a good time to retire, he said.

“I had a heart attack last June and stents before that,” Hussey, 73, said.

The heart attack really made him think about his future.

“My family said, ‘just step out now.’ And I didn’t want to let it go that quick because there’s a lot of things to do.”

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He thanked his family, especially his wife, Kathy, for their support as fire chief, but “a lot of times, the fire department came first.”

The public is invited to attend a reception for Hussey at 6 p.m. Monday at the Town Office. Refreshments will be available.

Hussey said the best part of firefighting is “helping people.”

His father helped start the fire department in Frankfort and his two brothers were also firefighters, he said. When Hussey was a junior firefighter in Frankfort, his brother was the fire chief.

Hussey was chief in Winterport for two years before moving to Peru in 1976 after getting a job working for Mack Trucks. He began a banking career in 1977 as the Dixfield branch manager.

He was elected fire chief in March 1987 after Robert Dolloff decide not to run. Less than a month later, on April 1, came the flood of 1987.

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A pair of spring storms, combined with snow-melt, resulted in heavy flooding in Maine, including along the Androscoggin River.

“It came up so quick,” he said. “The Diamond Match people were still working. Water was coming up in the driveway, so we tried to get them out by ladder over to the railroad tracks, which was on higher ground. When I backed out, the water was up to the floor boards in my pickup. It came up 3 feet in like 10 minutes.”

He said perhaps his biggest achievement as chief was “pushing and working” to replace the fire station at Worthley Pond, which was filling in.

“It was way overdue,” he said.

During the Ice Storm of 1998, Worthley Pond was completely cut off, he said. “People couldn’t go anywhere. They had no place to get warm. There was no place to get water or even shelter, temporarily. So that’s kind of how I sold it to the people,” he said.

The new station is heated, and serves as an emergency shelter, with water, bathroom and radio communication, which were not in the old station.

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During his time as chief, Hussey said he applied for and the department received almost a half a million dollars in grants, including $200,000 in 2007 for a firetruck, nearly $135,000 for the main fire station in 2004, and generators for the Worthley Pond station, at the highway garage and at the Town Office.

Meanwhile, he said, the government mandates just don’t stop.

“It costs Peru almost $6,000 for the mandates we have to do,” he said. “They’re safety related, so I understand, but small towns can’t afford a lot of it.”

His most coveted award, he said, was being named the 2007 Fire Chief of the Year at the annual meeting of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association. He was secretly nominated by selectmen.

He was also president of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association in 2004, and was appointed by Gov. Angus King and reappointed by Gov. John Baldacci to the State Emergency Response Commission. He was selected as the 2008 Volunteer of the Year by the River Valley Chamber of Commerce, and was presented with the 2021 Spirit of American Award from the Oxford County Commissoin.

In 1989, Hussey became a member of Rumford paper mill’s fire brigade, and became chief of the mill’s hazmat team in 1990, retiring in 2014 as the emergency response team chief.

With one year left on his three-year term, he plans to continue to be a member of the fire department.

“I’m not sure the new chief will put me in as an officer or not. But I don’t plan to go away unless we move away,” he said.

As he eases into retirement, among other things, Hussey said he wants to take up golf again. “I’ve talked about it with some of my friends,” he said, but they just never did play together.

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