Vinalhaven’s ‘Cap’ Conway recognizes past, future of fire departments
BOOTHBAY – Instead of an elaborate float, the Conways of Vinalhaven duct taped an old canvas with the words ‘It’s great to be a fireman’ to their van for the Maine State Federation of Firefighters’ annual parade, held this year in Boothbay, Saturday, Sept. 9.
Capt. Clarence “Cap” Conway of Vinalhaven rode to the convention with his wife, great grandson, and daughter Jean, Knox County delegate for MSFF. While there, they mingled with hundreds of other responders from around the state, learned of current equipment and policies, shared stories of the past, and looked to the future.
Firefighting is the trade of choice for Jean’s father, MSFF’s 2004 Firefighter of the year.
“I’ve belonged to the Maine State Federation of Firefighters almost since it’s inception,” Conway said of the organization, which has been hosting conventions for 54 years.
“I’ve seen it, over the years, start to advance. The last couple of years it has really come right up.”
It is through them, that he seeks answers to some of his fire-related concerns.
Of late, his professional interest includes a desire to see a state statute providing financial incentive to volunteer firefighters who stay active.
“I had that written down as number one,” he said, referring to his list of concerns he wanted addressed during the three-day convention. “We need that, all of the state does, for volunteer fire departments.”
In 2015 the state passed a bill called Length of Service Award Program Cap.
“But they didn’t have any money,” he said. “They had to have a bill to get the money....We thought it would come out of the fireworks tax, but it didn’t.”
In May of this year, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, along with two other legislators, sponsored a bill that would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 in favor of LOSAP recipients.
No current updates are available for either bill.
In the meantime, Conway’s personal agenda includes showing off the old piece of linen given to him by a member of one of Rockland and Vinalhaven’s founding families, the Blackingtons.
Conway said he worked with Chandler “Blackie” Blackington, who served as the deputy director of the Vinalhaven Emergency Management Agency, sat on the board of the Vinalhaven Historical Society and was the Vinalhaven Fire Department photographer. Before that, he served for a long time with the Middlesex Firefighters and Wardens Association, according to his obituary.
Blackie’s father wrote for the Boston Globe, and his grandfather was a member of the Rockland Fire Department, according to Conway.
Conway doesn’t remember how the canvas came into his possession, but still maintains that people enjoy seeing it, even those without knowledge of the background.
At parades closer to home, viewers have expressed excitement over an old canvas banner. Some have even stepped into the parade route for a better look, according to Jean Conway.
“They all still liked the looks of it,” he said of the yearly parades he and his family participate in.
Quite a few years ago, when Rockland hosted the MSFF convention and parade, the Conways brought their 1888 Fire Steamer, pulled by horses.
Antiques like his, hauled to Boothbay in a show of solidarity to the 16 counties of Maine, were mixed with a few newer and wider-spread recognitions.
Searsport towed a float recognizing the World Trade Center towers in memoriam of September 11, 2001. The Maine Forestry Service showed off a Wildfire Control vehicle, and a couple groups of energetic responders along the sidewalk danced to mixtures of rap music, sirens, and whatever else hummed in their ears.
Next year’s convention will be held in Portland on the third weekend in September.
Sarah Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org