WINTER HARBOR — Assistant Fire Chief Danny Backman Sr. has been serving his town as a firefighter for over five decades. Since 1986, he has been assistant chief.
His journey with the Fire Department began in 1965 when he was a high school student. Save for a three-year stint in the U.S. Coast Guard starting in 1968 after he graduated high school, Backman has been serving his seaside community ever since.
And while he has decided to step down as assistant chief, he won’t be going far.
“I traded my white hat for a red hat,” he said in a recent interview. He will still respond to fire calls when he is able.
At a small, surprise gathering for Backman on May 11, a plaque, complete with an engraved ax, was presented to him by Fire Chief Tate McLean to recognize Backman for his service.
“It surprised me that they did all that,” Backman said.
McLean is looking forward to Backman still being part of the department.
“He’s still going to be coming into the station and passing on his vast knowledge to the fire service,” he said.
“He’s got a very good, positive attitude,” McLean said of Backman. “Usually he’s very quiet, but when he speaks, everybody listens.”
Throughout the years, it has been important for Backman to help those in need and save property under fire’s siege.
One memory that sticks out to him is the burning of the A.R. Whitten & Son building on Main Street. Flames destroyed the structure, which has since been rebuilt.
“It was a fairly big one for this town,” Backman recalled.
Backman notes that he has seen a lot of changes in the field over the years, including the gear firefighters wear.
“The equipment has really, really improved, too,” Backman noted. “I can remember when it was just hip rubber boots and a rubber jacket.”
Techniques for tackling fires have also shifted, from hosing a structure down with water from the outside, to combating flames internally and protecting surrounding structures.
Another development for local departments has been the formation of mutual aid agreements, where several departments respond, or cover for other stations, when a call comes in.
“The mutual aid thing is a tremendous asset,” he said. “You get extra equipment, extra people.”
Backman shares that in recent years, it has been harder to get younger people to join the department. But that may be changing, too.
“We’re gaining on younger people now,” he said.
When reflecting on his career, Backman shares the gratification he has gotten from the job over the last five decades.
“You gotta enjoy something to do it,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. Backman served in the Coast Guard, not the Navy.