District No. 1 firefighter retiring after decades of service

Oct 19, 2018

After more than 40 years of keeping the South Coast safe at two Dartmouth fire departments, Kimball A. Baker III is bidding farewell to his firefighting family. 

The current lieutenant at Dartmouth Fire District No. 1 is retiring to North Carolina by the end of the month. Including the time he spent in the New Bedford Fire Explorer program, he has nearly 47 years of experience under his belt.

Put simply, Baker was born to be a firefighter. His father, Kimball A. Baker, Jr., served with District No. 1 for more than two decades, and for a time was the department’s chief. Other family members and relatives were also members of area fire departments.

“It runs in the family,” Baker said. “I was brought up in the fire department.”

Growing up, Baker was exposed to the camaraderie of the close-knit community. His earliest memories all revolve around his father’s work. During major blazes, his mother woke him and his sisters up, headed to the scene, and watched. He and his family were also frequent attendees at clambakes, bean bakes, and other celebrations at the firehouse.

When he was old enough, he started volunteering at those events, and later joined District No. 1 from 1975 to 1979. He moved and joined District No. 3 in 1981 after marriage, serving there for the remainder of the decade before returning to District No. 1 in 1990.

He’s been at it ever since, and views his fellow firefighters as his extended family. 

He’s worn a lot of hats in the department. In addition to call firefighter, he is also an instructor for the department’s SAFE education program. He taught kids at DeMello, Cushman, and pre-schools in the area life-saving fire safety lessons, like getting close to the ground in smoky conditions, how to dial 911, and stop, drop and roll.

Since 2007, he has been the department’s rehab officer, responsible for monitoring the health and safety of his firefighters during a call.

Baker battled some tough blazes over the years. In Dartmouth, that includes countless barn fires he still remembers scooping burning hay.

The biggest blaze he’s ever battled was not actually in Dartmouth. He was on the ground during the infamous Kerr Mill Fire in Fall River, which occurred when he was with District No. 3.

He responded to the mutual aid request, and still vividly remembers witnessing telephone poles on the other side of Interstate 195 burning in the intense heat of the flames which consumed the massive mill. 

During remarks at his retirement party, his extended firefighting family recounted his rescue of a man who was trapped in the bedroom of his burning home, which was complicated by the man’s physical condition and a narrow window as the only means of escape. 

The same day, he had taught a safety program at DeMello, and the man’s daughter was in attendance. He asked each student to teach their families the safety tips, and believes that’s exactly what the young girl did. Had it not been for that, he said, the outcome might have been tragic.

During the ceremony, which was attended by a number of current and retired firefighters, District No. 1 Deputy Chief Jake Bettencourt presented Baker with a commemorative plaque and a few parting gifts -- a District No. 1 windbreaker for those windy North Carolina days, and various other gifts.

Baker is also retiring from his day job at Rodney Metals in New Bedford, where he’s worked for 37 years. He will still make frequent trips back to Massachusetts to visit family, and hopes to find out if he can volunteer at his new hometown fire department in North Carolina.

“It’ll never leave you once you’ve been a firefighter,” Baker said.