DRACUT — Fire Chief Richard Patterson and the Dracut Fire Department would like to recognize and thank Firefighter Romeo Demers for his 35 years of service to the community as he drives off into retirement.
Born and raised in Dracut, Romeo Demers took an interest in first responders and emergency response when he began working as a tow truck driver in his teens and responded to car crashes. Demers earned his EMT certification and went to work for local ambulance companies in Lowell and Lawrence, but kept being drawn to the job he would see firefighters perform.
“Once I got a taste of it, I realized I wanted to be in the big red truck,” Firefighter Demers said over pizza and cupcakes at a retirement party this week.
Firefighter Demers joined the Dracut Fire Department as a call firefighter in 1987, for a time working for both the fire department and an ambulance company. He got his scuba diving license at about the same time, and soon began working with both the Dracut Fire Department and Lowell Fire Department to assist with calls where a diver was needed in the days before there was a local dive team.
Demers was hired as a fire alarm operator in 1995, and in 1996 was hired as a full-time firefighter, a position he remained at until Wednesday at 6 p.m., when he finished his last shift. Demers ended his final shift by driving away from the Fire Department’s headquarters on Pleasant Street in a 1948 Diamond T Fire Engine that the department uses for parades and community events. Chief Patterson rode along and drove the truck back to the station afterward. The truck was a personal favorite of Demers.
Firefighter Demers was known throughout the department for his sense of humor and love of the job, and said he was drawn to never knowing for sure how he would spend each day at work.
“You don’t know where you’re going to go, what environment you’re going to be in, who you’re going to see… every minute of the day you have no idea,” Firefighter Demers said. “We could be sitting here doing this right now and 20 minutes from now I could be in a basement in the dark and smoke, or out on a boat, or inside of an upside-down car. You never know.”
To help ensure everyone was prepared for the unexpected each day, Demers liked to focus on helping newer firefighters learn the ropes, just as older firefighters had once helped him.
Firefighter Demers describes himself as “very talkative,” so he channeled that into constantly teaching other firefighters what different types of equipment do. He also encourages other firefighters to memorize the streets in the communities where they work, which can help speed responses when time is of the essence. He encourages young firefighters to do as they’re told and to respect their commanders, and he also insists his colleagues stay off their phones when responding to calls, even if he’s the one driving.
“He had an innate ability to take the more complex situations and boil them down to the basics so that the newer members would not only learn, but remember what it was he was teaching them,” said Chief Patterson. “I relied on him to mold the probationary firefighters into good jakes.”
Demers said he hopes community members in Dracut appreciate how well-trained and well-equipped the Dracut Fire Department is, and said he was lucky that in his career he got to see three new fire stations built, as well as the purchase of seven new fire engines, two ladder trucks, two rescue trucks, and three brush trucks.
“We have brand new equipment and we train a lot,” said Firefighter Demers, who worked under five different fire chiefs. “We have a house right now down the road where we’ve been practicing cutting things up, smoking up the house, and cutting holes in the roof to learn about cross ventilation and regular ventilation. All our equipment is phenomenal.”
Demers said responding to assist with the natural gas fires in Lawrence in 2018 was one of the most memorial incidents of his career.
“That was wild,” Firefighter Demers said. “Driving around and passing by houses that were on fire because we had to go to a specific address and were told to not stop anywhere else. Driving by fires was wild.”
Firefighter Demers said many of the calls he responded to are things that shouldn’t really be spoken about in detail, but he said the difficult things that firefighters and first responders see have made him appreciate life.
Demers credited his wife, Maria, for supporting him over the years, and said being a firefighter helped him realize how lucky he is.
“Some of the stuff you see makes you really appreciate life,” he said. “Why are you so miserable? Look at what this person is going through. Look at what this little kid is going through. Just be happy, because life can change in an instant.”
Chief Patterson said Firefighter Demers spread that lesson to him as well, teaching him to live, laugh, and appreciate each day because of the perspective that firefighting provides.
“This job is humbling. We see people usually on the worst day of their life,” Chief Patterson said. “Romeo was always a steady light that burned with that desire to make things better not only for those effected, but for the responders that he worked with day in and day out.”
We will miss his humor, the jokes, and the compassion he had for the town, the department, and his brother and sister firefighters.”