FARMINGTON — After 35 years of firefighting in the cold and ice, retiring Capt. Richard Knight said Florida will be a welcome change.

“It will be nice to get away from the snow and the salt,” Knight said Friday afternoon at his retirement party at the Town Office. He and his wife, Jackie, are planning to move to Tampa next week.

More than half of the department’s members are more than 50 years old, and Knight is the 18th firefighter to leave the department in five years, reducing the department’s roster to 25 members. It’s a trend that has department officials concerned and seeking new recruits.

Knight recalled a recent fire in which Deputy Chief Clyde Ross asked him to let the younger firefighters take a turn.

“I said, ‘That’s all well and good, but where are they?'”

Because of the declining number of volunteers, the department is seeking a 30 percent budget increase this year to hire more scheduled staff.

Along with staff members retiring, Fire Chief Terry Bell cited a variety of reasons for poor retention, including volunteers accepting jobs out of town and competing family obligations

“Its harder to get commitment from the younger generation,” Knight said.

Knight he originally intended to retire from firefighting and move after he retired from his job as Farmington postmaster in 2010, but ended up firefighting for several more years.

“I got it in under my skin,” he said. “I took pride doing it.”

Knight, originally from Newport, owned a store in Farmington, Knight Variety, for five years, before he got the job with the Farmington post office in 1988.

Knight said he joined in 1978, when he was 27, because the department was looking for new recruits and Hardy and Bell “twisted my arm” to come.

Knight said he started going to department meetings and tried two times to join, but the members voted him down the first two times they held a vote.

“I said if you don’t want me now, I’m going to quit coming,” he said, and they voted him in the third time.

The department’s aging members, joined with selectmen Ryan Morgan and Andrew Hufnagel and State Rep. Lance Harvell, gathered Friday for Knight’s retirement celebration.

Fellow members of the department recalled major fires they responded to over the years, and took turns kidding Knight about his straightforward personality. Before cutting the cake commemorating his retirement, Bell said Knight could catch a ride home in whatever engine he picked.

“This is the one part of leaving this town I’m really going to be sad about,” Knight said, looking around the room.

Knight and the other experienced firefighters reflected back on their early days at the department.

“Remember Engine 3?” said Hardy.

“Yeah, a knuckle buster. You can drive that, you can drive anything,” Knight said.

Bell said he didn’t want to repeat what the other department members already told Knight, but said he appreciated his service to the town.

“We’ve had some good times and some bad times,” he said.

“But more good times than bad,” Knight said.

Knight said he was the first one in his family to become a firefighter and now several of his five grandchildren, all under 11 years old, have shown curiosity about firefighting.

“Even my granddaughter likes to come down to the station and get her picture taken,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]