Beloved firefighter eulogized
That’s how those who knew him describe Brunswick firefighter Harold E. Emerson, 73, a captain of the department’s call force, who died Monday after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Emerson served on the Brunswick Fire Department for more than 41 years — many of them alongside his brother, former Deputy Chief Arthur Emerson, and his son, Jeff Emerson, who is now deputy chief for fire prevention.
“Family runs strong in the fire service,” retired Brunswick Fire Chief Clark Labbe said Wednesday.
“Harold was on call duty when I started in 1973,” Labbe said. “He’s always been dedicated to the fire department. He’s probably been the glue that held that call department together over the years.”
As recently as April, Emerson worked beside his son at the command post of a three-alarm fire that consumed an apartment building on the corner of Maine and Mason streets.
“ I used to shadow him when I was a kid,” Jeff Emerson said Wednesday afternoon. “It was when I was 13 that I was with him at the fire station and they got a call and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
When his son was a junior firefighter, and too young to drive, Harold and Jeff would leave the house together to go to fires. They served together until earlier this year.
“Not too long ago, he would still call my house to make sure I heard the (fire) call,” Jeff said.
Emerson was born in Brunswick on Sept. 7, 1938, to Norman and Edith Emerson. His father was sheriff and his mother was one of the founders of Regional Memorial Hospital, and its director of nurses.
He graduated from high school in 1956 and then joined the U.S. Air Force, serving as an air traffic controller before returning to Maine.
For 36 years he worked as an analyst at Union Mutual, now UNUM, in Portland until he retired in 1997.
Emerson had many interests — among them, trout fishing, hunting for whitetailed deer and serving as a member and past master of the Masonic Lodge in Brunswick — “ anything except sitting still,” Jeff said.
With Patricia, his wife of 44 years, he was an active member of the Brunswick United Methodist Church, where the two organized monthly public suppers.
But firefighting, according to Emerson’s family, was his “passion.”
“Even when he was traveling with UNUM, he would come back with pictures of fire stations he’d visited across the nation,” Jeff said. “ That’s what he loved. He really enjoyed the entire fire service nationwide.”
“He was on every committee, every activity that came up,” Labbe said. “He was just somebody who would always speak his mind — real levelheaded and a very dependable person.”
Tim Martel, now master of the Masonic Lodge in Brunswick, said Wednesday that Emerson served as chaplain of the lodge, opening and closing each lodge meeting with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
“He was just a great guy to have around,” Martel said. As past master, Emerson sat right beside Martel during meetings, “and if I missed a note, he would be right there to quietly give me a hint. He was very reliable, one of the most caring people I ever met, and he became a good friend.”
In fact, when Martel was hospitalized suddenly two days after being installed as master in January, Emerson visited him in the hospital every day for a week.
“I could count on it just like clockwork,” Martel said. “He was very caring. Very proud of his kids, very proud of his wife, and a very proud fireman.”
A lighter side
Harold Emerson’s gentle sense of humor also stood out.
Jeff Emerson said one of his father’s favorite pastimes was “giving me a hard time about how much my name’s been in the paper.”
Since Emerson’s retirement in 1997, he delivered flowers for Flowers Etc. on Jordan Avenue in Brunswick — a job his son said gave him much happiness.
Monica Theberge, owner of Flowers Etc., on Wednesday remembered Emerson as “a very sweet man” who loved practical jokes and water balloon fights.
“You never knew what kind of joke was going to be played,” Theberge said. “We used to decorate his front lawn for his birthday. He’d wait for us at 10 p. m. ( the night before), and then turn the hose on. One time he took off in my van and left us stranded at his house.”
Theberge said Emerson loved water balloon fights at company picnics, but said the fights “were basically just to get him wet.”
“We had a lot of fun,” Theberge said. “ He was more than just an employee, he was a great friend.”
“ The thing I remember about Harold is that he was the kindest person you’d ever meet,” Capt. Mark Waltz of the Brunswick Police Department said Wednesday. Waltz met Emerson as the two worked various fire scenes, and Waltz got to know him better when Emerson attended a citizens police academy.
“He would do anything for anyone,” Waltz said.
Visiting hours will be held Monday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Brackett Funeral Home, 29 Federal St.
On Tuesday afternoon, fire department and public safety vehicles will escort Emerson’s body from Brackett Funeral Home to the Brunswick United Methodist Church, where a funeral service will be held at 11 a.m., followed by a Masonic service. Interment will be at Riverside Cemetery.