After joining the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department in 1992, Chris Holmes rose through the ranks before being named fire chief in 2003. The longest serving fire chief in Hancock's history, he works as an insurance agent at the Brown, Holmes & Milliken Agency in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY BRIAN SWARTZ

Longtime fire chief got an early start

Hancock Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Holmes grew up in Hancock, attended Hancock Grammar School and graduated from Ellsworth High School. His introduction to firefighting came early in life.

“My mother’s father, George Marsters, was one of the first chiefs of the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department,” Holmes said. Marsters took “us to the fire station, my brother, Jonathan, and me, when we were younger to hang out,” Holmes said.

After living in Ellsworth for a while, Holmes built a house at the Crossroads on Hancock Point. “Some friends who were in the Fire Department said, ‘Hey, you ought to join!’” he recalled.

Holmes did so in 1992. Firefighters later voted him a lieutenant, then captain, and then assistant chief. Named the chief in 2003, he is the longest-serving fire chief in Hancock history.

The Hancock Volunteer Fire Department operates from Fire Station No. 1, located on the Cemetery Road since 1958, and Fire Station No. 2, located on Route 1 near the Ellsworth-Hancock line. The Fire Department has two pumpers, two tankers, a brush truck, a forestry truck, heavy equipment and a rescue boat.

Volunteer firefighters are the heart and soul of the department, which has 18 men and women on its roster, including trained and licensed EMTs like Holmes. The department operates a first-responder service utilizing EMTs “who go to the scene and help the patient,” he said.

Holmes pointed out that while “we’re the town’s fire department, we’re not a municipal department.” Hancock voters annually appropriate funds to cover “our daily operating budget, training, equipment, and fuel,” he said.

About two-thirds of the department’s 331 calls in 2017 involved first-responder calls. Firefighters turn out to check downed power lines, respond to vehicle accidents, pump out flooded basements, deal with tree limbs lying in a road, and answer many other types of calls, such as “smoke alarms going off [in someone’s house] in the middle of the night,” Holmes said.

Hancock’s volunteer firefighters are on call 24/7 and are often training when not responding to a call. The time commitment is immense. Holmes said a large amount of training is needed to qualify as an interior firefighter who can enter a burning building. Other department positions require less training.

“It’s up and down” in terms of available volunteers, Holmes said. His son, Michael, and brother-in-law, Dustin Leyendecker, serve with the Hancock VFD; “We are an EMS and fire family,” Chris said.

Previously employed at Ellsworth Auto Supply and Maine Savings Federal Credit Union, Holmes worked nine years with his father, Blaine “Buzzie” Holmes, at the Holmes Agency on State Street in Ellsworth. Chris became a licensed insurance agent, taking classes in Ellsworth and elsewhere. “I’m still doing so. It’s ongoing,” he said.

Planning to retire, Blaine Holmes sold his agency a few years ago to the Brown & Milliken Agency, which became the Brown, Holmes & Milliken Agency, with offices in Ellsworth and Machias. “I really enjoy my work,” Chris said.

He “keeps my gear with me all the time,” and the insurance agency does “allow me to leave for calls,” he said.

A dedicated model hobbyist who likes to build scale-model aircraft and armored vehicles, such as the detailed models displayed in his office, Holmes belongs to the modeling club IPMS/Down East. His models have garnered some 30 awards in different categories.

Holmes enjoys snowmobiling (he has a Polaris and an antique Moto-Ski) and boating. “I generally tinker. I like to fix stuff,” he said. “I buy a couple of used snowmobiles and make one out of two.” An experienced carpenter, he also paints full-size vehicles, aircraft and fire trucks.

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