Cody Perkins, 19, left, and father Bob Perkins at the Winthrop Fire Station on Oct. 31. Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — Bob Perkins of the Winthrop Fire Department says his wife grows nervous when he and his firefighter sons Connor, 22, and Cody, 19, get called to fires or other emergencies.

“By now, she’s sorta used to it, but she still gets pretty nervous sometimes,” he said, “and she ends up listening to the pager.”

The Perkins family is one of four with members of two generations serving on the department. They make up about one-third of the department’s 33 staff members, which helps the department with crucial volunteer numbers, according to Fire Chief Dan Brooks.

“It’s a never-ending shell game to get people to join, and keep their interest,” Brooks said. “There’s always somebody coming on and somebody leaving. We do better than most.”

The department’s four families with multiple generations serving Winthrop: Roger Audette and son, Alex, 18; Mark Arsenault and son, Tyler, 28; Bob Perkins and his two sons; and Billy Cummins and son, Nathan Cummins, 21, and stepson, Andrew Bellegarde, 35.

Brooks said the number of father-son combinations in the department is not an indication it is common for dads to bring sons to the department. Brooks, a father of two sons, said his children had no interest in being firefighters.

“It’s not something that just because the dad does it, the sons does it,” Brooks said. “(Volunteers) truly enjoy what they’re doing. It’s kind of neat. I think it’s nice for the fathers to do that with their sons.”

Bob Perkins said he started his firefighting career in Winthrop, but moved to another department before coming back after his sons graduated to full members from the junior firefighter program. He said he is not nervous when they get “toned” to a fire, and he is enjoying serving alongside them.

“I know that they’re well-trained, so I’m not worried about that,” Bob Perkins said. “It’s really awesome. It’s a great experience.”

Cody Perkins, who is in his first semester studying fire science and hopes to become a full-time firefighter in a larger department, said his interest in the career was piqued after visiting his father’s workplace, which instilled in Cody a sense of community service.

“(I would go) down to his work, and seeing all the trucks and meeting all the guys sparked my interest quite a bit,” Cody Perkins said. “Just helping my community and giving back to them is part of how I like to go about my business.

“I enjoy it a lot. Just seeing the small things you can do to change a bigger picture. It changes your life.”

Winthrop Deputy Fire Chief Mark Arsenault, center, hands out candy at a Halloween event Oct. 31 at Winthrop Grade School. Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal

Roger Audette, the fire chief in Augusta, said he joined on in Winthrop to maintain his years in fire service because he plans to retire in the near future. His son, Alex, was already a volunteer when he joined and is working through school to become a firefighter and an EMT.

“I think everybody’s extremely proud of him,” Roger Audette said. “I remember him from a young age wearing my fire (gear).”

Alex Audette, 18, said he has memories of going on calls in the truck with his father. Since then, he said the environment led him to study fire science at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

“I’ve always hung out with my dad at the station,” Alex Audette said. “It’s definitely a different feeling going from riding with him and not being able to do anything, and working together now and being on a hose together.”

Despite Alex’s abilities as a firefighter, Roger Audette said he worried as a father when Alex said he was going to get into firefighting.

“Being in the fire service since 1987,” Roger Audette said, “you do worry, because it is dangerous and you’ve seen people get hurt along the way.”

Roger Audette said the familial generations at the Winthrop Fire Department are like those at other, smaller departments, which struggle at times to bring on volunteers.

Alex Audette said the group of firefighters in Winthrop is close, aside from the occasional father-son spat.

Bob Perkins, who gave his sons some time on the department before he rejoined, said the family units are great for department morale.

“Like every father-and-son relationship, it was time for them to learn from somebody else,” Bob Perkins said. “I wanted to make sure they enjoyed and they did, and I ended up coming back.”

Deputy Chief Mark Arsenault said his family’s tradition of fire service predates him and his son Tyler, 28, who now serves alongside him in Winthrop.

“It’s a longstanding (tradition) in my family,” Mark Arsenault said. “My grandfather was a firefighter. My brothers were firefighters. Now my son and myself. It’s a pretty cool honor.”

Brooks said the town’s firefighting crew, which is volunteer but is paid to respond to calls, does not do the job for recognition or large paychecks. Instead, the firefighters do it to serve their community. He said that willingness to help others can be carried down through a family.

“I think some of the younger fathers would like to see (their children) become volunteers,” Brooks said. “If there’s some interest (in fire service) in the family, it tends to follow through the family.”

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