Hermon fire chief retires after nearly 50 years saving people, pets and wedding albums

That Frank Roma would spend his life as a firefighter was obvious from the start.

Retired fire chief Hermon grew up in Springfield Township, outside of Philadelphia, near a fire station. When his mother heard the sirens, she put the boy in the family car and followed the trucks to see where they were going.

In this photo, 11-year-old Frank Roma drives his father’s 1927 Hahn fire truck around their property where he grew up in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Frank Roma

Roma, who turns 66 later this month, even had a 1927 Hahn fire truck he drove around his yard. He put on his first firefighting boots as a volunteer in 1974 before he turned 18.

Now, after six years as Hermon’s fire chief, he is set to retire them at the end of September and hand over leadership duties to his deputy chief, Cody Sullivan, who has been tapped to take over Roma’s duties.

“I got thousands and thousands of calls and it’s not what people lost that I remember, it’s what we were able to salvage,” he said, “What whether it be people or pets or whether we were able to collect an album or wedding cards from their children, that has always been special to me.

One of the biggest rescues of Roma’s career came on July 21, 2020, when Hermon firefighters helped rescue 52-year-old Eric Jabbusch from Greene who was trapped under 10,000 pounds of steel sheet piling. Jabbush worked for HB Fleming of South Portland and was part of a team working for Cianbro Corp. replacing a highway bridge in Hampden for the Maine Department of Transportation when the accident occurred.

A year after Jabbusch nearly died, he and his family had an emotional reunion at the Hermon Fire Station with the first responders who saved his life. Her pelvis was crushed and required multiple surgeries and “equipment” to fix it. Today he walks with a cane and was blinded by the accident. His survival was so unlikely that Roma and his crew dubbed Jabbusch “the miracle man”.

“I’ve had miraculous calls but I don’t remember one as miraculous as this,” Roma said on Friday.

One of the biggest changes Roma have seen over the year is a better understanding of the long-term health risks faced by firefighters. A bladder cancer survivor, Roma believes his diagnosis was work-related.

“At the time, firefighters believed that the dirtier your turnout gear was, the better off you were on the job,” he said. “Now we know that the gear traps a lot of carcinogens that we used to bring home with us. Decontamination of gear is essential and the industry recognizes this.

Recent studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health firefighter cancer and concluded that firefighters face a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the States -United.

Sullivan, 35, said he hoped to emulate Roma’s leadership style as a successor.

“He puts the needs of others first and leads by example,” he said.

Hermon Fire Chief Frank Roma is retiring at the end of the month. Roma has worked in the fire department since 1974 and was hired as Hermon’s fire chief six years ago.

Hermon City Council Speaker Steve Thomas called Roma a “remarkable civic leader, who always seemed to have the right words to recognize success and provide comfort in times of loss.” He has developed not only a highly trained firefighting team, but also a department equipped with the latest technology and equipment to help Hermon residents in times of need.

Roma’s first full-time job as a firefighter was in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Two years later, he became assistant director of training for the Montgomery County Training Academy. From there he went to Mankato, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.

In 1991, Roma traveled south to McKinney, Texas, located north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis. A rapidly growing suburb, McKinney’s population was around 30,000 when he arrived and around 50,000 when he retired 20 years later. During those two decades, the McKinney Fire Department grew from 29 full-time employees at two stations to 150 firefighters at nine stations.

Roma retired to Maine in 2012, where he vacationed in the summer as a child and adult.

“I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon [on July 20, 1969] while on vacation in Maine,” he said. “I went to Hurricane Outward Bound School and sent my kids there.”

Roma served as Auburn’s fire department chief from 2012 to 2015, when the city purchased its own ambulances and ended its contract with a private company. It was a controversial decision in the community that was opposed by a local hospital, the fire chief said.

In 2015, Roma refused to lay off its administrative staff as part of proposed budget cuts and offered to quit to save their jobs.

“At the end of the day, we’re in the people business,” he said on Friday. “Our job is to take care of the people in the community and the people who serve them.”

Roma, who lives in Glenburn, was hired as Chief Hermon in 2016. Now he is retiring – for good this time – after nearly half a century as a firefighter.

“I’m not getting any younger and I’ve always admired people who came out while they still had some game,” he said.

His biggest regret about leaving is that he won’t be chief when the new fire truck arrives next year. It was due to arrive on July 1, but supply chain disruptions have caused delays.

Hermon Fire Chief Frank Roma is retiring at the end of the month. Roma has worked in the fire department since 1974 and was hired as Hermon’s fire chief six years ago.

Once retired, Roma will have more time to devote to his campaign for the Maine House of Representatives. The fire chief is the Democratic candidate seeking to unseat Republican Representative Abigail Griffin of the Levant, a retired teacher. The district is made up of Glenburn, Levant and Kenduskeag.

Roma is also training to become a court-appointed special advocate for children in child protection cases.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to serve,” he said. “This career suited me perfectly. The people I worked with made it a blessing for me. At the end of the day, when I hang up my boots, I’ll miss people.

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