Joseph Guyotte has spent 60 years fighting fires, and 38 of those years as chief in Dover-Foxcroft's department.
Joseph Guyotte is retiring at the end of the year after 38 years as fire chief at Dover-Foxcroft Fire Department. Although he is retiring, Guyotte will continue working at the department. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It was February 1964, and Joseph Guyotte, after several months of waiting, heard from Fire Chief “Old Red” Whitman about an open reserve position at the fire station.

He had moved to Dover-Foxcroft the year before, worked as a radar operator at the Charleston Air Force Station and met Bonnie, a hometown girl whom he married after six months.

“He handed me a rubber raincoat and a pair of boots that were three sizes too big,” said Guyotte, who also remembered the used helmet and rubber gloves he was given. “I said, ‘Red, they don’t fit.’ And he said, ‘Put an extra pair of socks on.’ He said, ‘When the whistle blows, come.’”

That marked the beginning of Guyotte’s journey at the Dover-Foxcroft Fire Department.

At the end of the month, after nearly 60 years in the fire service and 38 years as chief, Guyotte, 81, will step down. The change is part of a shift happening countywide in Piscataquis — three other chiefs also have decided to retire and pass the reins to younger leaders. Guyotte will continue spreading his knowledge at the department and on a national scale because he can’t imagine not doing this work.

“Even in the Air Force, when I should’ve been reading radar stuff and studying for my next promotion, I was taking classes for fire service,” he said, noting his firefighter father influenced him somewhat. “I don’t know what bit me to do this, but I just love it. Always have. It’s my life.”

Outgoing Fire Chief Joseph Guyotte chats with Deputy Chief Brian Gaudet, who will soon take the helm of the Dover-Foxcroft.
Dover-Foxcroft’s fire chief, Joseph Guyotte (left), who is retiring at the end of the month, chats with Deputy Chief Brian Gaudet in the station last week. Gaudet will become the new fire chief.

Deputy Chief Brian Gaudet, 41, will lead the department starting Jan. 1, 2023. He’s preparing to take over as the station nears 700 calls for service this year, an influx that began two to three years ago. In 2020, they logged 380 calls. That includes everything from a house fire to a cat stuck in a tree, Gaudet said.

Thirty years ago, if the department had 100 calls, the crew was busy, Guyotte said.

“You can’t believe what we fought fire with,” he said. “God love you, I can remember hanging out the second-story window coughing and gagging because I didn’t have an air pack on, and shaking it off before going back to fight the fire.”

The department has grown its arsenal of trucks and tools during Guyotte’s tenure, including the Jaws of Life, which first-responders use to cut passengers out of vehicles and a camera that allows them to see through smoke. A 2012 tower ladder and 2022 engine are the newest vehicles at the station, one of which arrived a little more than a month ago.

In Guyotte’s nearly four decades as chief, the department has never seen a resident perish during a structure fire, he said. He vividly remembers a day in the 1970s when he returned home and cried because he wasn’t able to save a family of four trapped inside their burning home. Now he reminds his neighbors not to seal their doors with plastic in the winter because it’s what trapped the family inside.

Firefighters and paramedics respond to medical emergencies and hold mutual aid agreements with surrounding towns and Northern Light Mayo Hospital, though Dover-Foxcroft’s department is the largest in the county. Even the sheriff’s office calls on the crew for services and houses its snowmobile at the station.

People expect someone to be there that they can call during times of trouble, Guyotte said. So they are, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. And seven days a week during the summer months, when there are more visitors in town.

They also count on the firefighters to cook 200 pounds of bacon for the town’s annual maple breakfast and clear the station for Santa’s visit with children after the Hometown Holidays parade each December.

Guyotte is an energetic leader who has always been passionate about serving the town in various capacities and has advocated for improvements at the fire department and opportunities for his team, said Town Manager Jack Clukey, who met Guyotte when he was a student in junior high and has worked with him since 2004.

Joseph Guyotte (left) goes through memorabilia in his office as he is packing. The helmet of Dover-Foxcroft’s second fire chief (top right) is one of the many items that Guyotte has collected and will be donating to the department’s fire museum. Guyotte (bottom right) assists as a truck backs into the bay at the station. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

It’s part of the job, and the community, in turn, has generously supported fundraisers including the Dover-Foxcroft Firefighters Association’s boot drive, food booth at the county fair, ice fishing derby and others. People also have donated equipment for the department and building materials for the museum.

“The townspeople in Dover have been good to the fire department,” he said, which is one of the most rewarding parts of his career.

There are also instances like when a mother called Guyotte, upset about the department’s fire education in the schools, which they teach once a year for students in prekindergarten through fourth grade. Her children refused to go to sleep because the smoke detector in their home wasn’t working, he remembered, chuckling. So he brought her the 9-volt battery she needed and considered that a win in his book.

Another standout moment was when Guyotte discovered in the 1970s that late resident Foster Gray, whose home firefighters responded to decades before when his kitchen caught fire, left $150,000 for the department.

They used a portion of the funds to purchase equipment and invested the rest. Over the years, the firefighters association has dipped into the account when necessary and used funds to build the firefighters museum housed at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds. The museum, with eight pieces of apparatus on display, is a huge passion project for Guyotte. They feed $5,000 from fundraisers back into the account each year.

Guyotte is a sentimental man. He’s a collector of antique fire extinguishers, fireman patches and Smokey the Bear posters. He’s full of stories about discovering an old something that once belonged to the department and how he managed to bring it home to display in the museum. That includes the Hunneman hand tub, bought by the town of Dover in 1850 and later sold as scrap, and the 1922 American La France fire truck.

“It’s history. You can’t replace it no matter what,” he said, thumbing through a binder of Piscataquis Observer articles, including one from October 1927, when the fire station opened.

A Dalmation figurine crowned with a fire hat and photographs of family, both blood relatives and those forged through fighting fires, adorn his window sill. On the other side of the room, a bin overflowed with firefighter helmets, metal and leather varieties, that once belonged to local guys and will endure in the museum.

Strong leadership and sustained rapport with town leaders and residents also will persist, as Gaudet has what it takes, Guyotte said. He has the training and dedication needed for the job, he said, which doesn’t come without sacrifice like missing birthday parties and holidays.

“We’re all in this together, whether you wear a white helmet or a black helmet or you sweep the floors,” said Gaudet, who sees the profession as a calling. “We’re one big family, and we work as one big family.”

The groundwork has already been laid thanks to Guyotte’s driving force, he said, and he’s glad to have him around as a mentor and advocate when a problem arises. Countywide, Guyotte is seen as an icon, he said, and there isn’t a place he’s been where someone hasn’t suggested, “Call Joe. Go see what he knows.”

Joseph Guyotte has spent 60 years fighting fires, and 38 of those years as chief in Dover-Foxcroft's department.
Dover-Foxcroft’s fire chief, Joseph Guyotte, is retiring at the end of the year after 38 years as chief. Although he is retiring, Guyotte will remain a firefighter with the department. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Guyotte will continue offering guidance as a board director for the National Volunteer Fire Council and historian on the Maine State Federation of Firefighters’ committee. He’s also one of Maine’s directors for the New England Volunteer Fire & EMS Coalition that teaches classes to small-town firefighters.

Guyotte was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Maine State Federation of Firefighters Convention in Fryeburg earlier this year.

He looks forward to the new year, when he won’t be leading the meetings, but rather sitting back, grinning, he said. He also hopes to spend more time with family.

His son John is a captain at the fire department, and his daughter Holly Bell of Sangerville is a dispatcher. His daughter Priscilla Quinn lives in California.

“We’ve got a damn good department,” he said. “We’ve got many, many years of experience here. The old crew is still fighting fires. The younger crew, they’re coming up. It’s time to pass the helmet over, and say, ‘Hey, take it from here.’”

Joseph Guyotte's fire chief sits in the Dover-Foxcroft Fire Department.
Joseph Guyotte is retiring at the end of the year after 38 years as chief of the Dover-Foxcroft fire department. Deputy Chief Brian Gaudet become the new fire chief.