SEARSPORT — John Merrithew retired from the Searsport Fire Department after 31 years of service, laying down a public service torch that was handed down to him through several generations in his family.

He spent 31 years in the Searsport department, starting his firefighting career at age 12 in 1991, he said. He was also a first responder for 20 years. Volunteering in the same department throughout his life, he worked his way through the ranks to recently hang up his helmet as a lieutenant.

His father, John “Jack” Merrithew, worked as a firefighter in the same department, he said. He remembers riding in the trucks with his father and other firefighters during parades as a small child. At times his whole family volunteered on the department, with his mother putting in 10 years of service herself.

As the person responsible for maintaining the department’s antiques, he was the department historian, he said. He helped pass on the department’s history, which his father instilled in him from an early age.

Merrithew’s family ties run deep in Searsport. He can trace his ancestors back through several generations in the town for at least 100 years, he said. With that, his ancestors have a history of being civically active. His father spent 20 years in the Searsport Fire Department and his grandfather spent about 30 years on the Planning Board.

He started his public service as a member of the Boy Scouts of America, he said. The biggest reason why he got into public service was to be there for his community. “I guess it was just the idea of helping and working in the community,” he said.

Being from the community and knowing most of the people in it helped him out on service calls, he said, though he does not know as many people in town now because a lot of new people have moved to the area. Knowing the people he served personally felt more gratifying when he went out on calls.

“At one time, we used to know everybody we went to,” he said, “whether that was an ambulance call in the middle of the night or a chimney fire or an over decker.”

Retired Searsport firefighter John Merrithew poses Sept. 28 with two items he was awarded by the town of Searsport for over 30 years of firefighting service to the town. Photo by Kendra Caruso

One of the toughest parts of his job was thinking about the people who he could not help or who were upset about the outcome of some situations, he said. Knowing those families personally makes the loss harder.

“And that’s what I think hurts the most out of all, is remembering those particular people you saw take their last breath or whatever it may have been,” he said. “You know, families you’ve grown up with, that’s what makes doing it the hardest.”

But one of the highlights of the job is the sense of brotherhood among the firefighters he served with, he said. It is a profession that ties people together like no other job he has held. Firefighters rely on each other for protection, sometimes in life-or-death scenarios. There is a lot of trust they need to develop with each other.

Searsport Town Manager James Gillway was a scoutmaster when Merrithew was in the Boy Scouts, he said. The Merrithew family’s ties in the town date back to its founding. He described the retired firefighter as very dependable. “When a call came out, John was on his way,” he said.

The Select Board honored Merrithew with a plaque for his service during a Sept. 20 Select Board meeting.

Searsport Town Manager James Gillway, left, poses with retired Searsport Fire Department Firefighter John Merrithew Sept. 20 after the firefighter was honored during a Select Board meeting for more than 30 years of service. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Firefighters like Merrithew have a deep knowledge of the history of the department that is beneficial to understand what works well and how things can be done better, Gillway said. He thinks Merrithew is well regarded among residents in town.

“I think anyone that puts in 30 years of service to any department is definitely going gain respect and esteem,” he said. “… I hope we don’t ever miss the importance of that service in the town.”

Merrithew hopes to stay in contact with the department to help pass down historic information but he does not want to respond anymore, he said. His father never actually retired before his death right before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and he always regretted it. “Having your life revolve around that radio is really hard,” he said.

Walking away with all of the knowledge and experience he has gained over the years is hard, but he wants to do more traveling and spend more time on recreational hobbies like fishing, he said.

His last call was to the Penobscot McCrum potato factory fire in March, and he thinks it was a good call to retire on, he said. He went there to check out the scene, then hopped into action doing anything he could to help support his fellow firefighters. He hopes people remember him as being reliable.