Leeman Reflects on Tenure as Bristol Fire Chief


Waldoboro firefighter Marie Searles embraces Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around Lincoln County gathered to surprise Leeman and celebrate his retirement. (Maia Zewert photo)Waldoboro firefighter Marie Searles embraces Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around Lincoln County gathered to surprise Leeman and celebrate his retirement. (Maia Zewert photo)

Waldoboro firefighter Marie Searles embraces Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around Lincoln County gathered to surprise Leeman and celebrate his retirement. (Maia Zewert photo)

After 11 years as Bristol’s fire chief, including 2 1/2 years as the town’s first full-time fire chief, Paul Leeman Jr. hung up his white helmet Saturday, May 1.

“I consider myself at the top of my game, and I don’t want to slide down to the point where people would ask, ‘Would you please step down?’” Leeman said. “I feel 45 years old, but the reality is, I’m going to be 70 next year, and Father Time doesn’t go backwards well.”

Leeman has logged more than 50 years of service with Bristol Fire and Rescue and his family’s history with the department goes back to its beginning.

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) embraces Bremen Fire Chief Donnie Leeman during a celebration of Paul Leeman's retirement in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) embraces Bremen Fire Chief Donnie Leeman during a celebration of Paul Leeman's retirement in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) embraces Bremen Fire Chief Donnie Leeman during a celebration of Paul Leeman’s retirement in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

His grandfather, Clifford Leeman, was one of the founders of the department. His father, Paul Leeman Sr., served as assistant chief at the Round Pond station for 20 years. His son, Paul Leeman III, already has 30 years with the department.

Leeman officially joined the department as a teenager, during “a different time” for the volunteer fire service.

“It was before there were all of the restrictions and mandatory trainings,” Leeman said. “I was on the department for 15 years before I had a pair of boots.”

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (second from right) talks with Bristol Board of Selectmen Chair Chad Hanna outside the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county gathered in the village to mark Leeman's retirement as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (second from right) talks with Bristol Board of Selectmen Chair Chad Hanna outside the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county gathered in the village to mark Leeman's retirement as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (second from right) talks with Bristol Board of Selectmen Chair Chad Hanna outside the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county gathered in the village to mark Leeman’s retirement as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)

As time went on, safety standards for firefighters changed. Leeman became the department’s safety officer, a position he held for over 20 years.

“I do understand why we had to graduate to the same safety regulations as paid, full-time departments,” Leeman said. “It’s made for some very good firefighters on these small departments who are just as capable as the firefighters in the cities. All of the departments in Lincoln County have really stepped up to the plate.”

Leeman became Bristol’s fire chief Jan. 5, 2010, succeeding Ron Pendleton in the role. He remembers the first few days as stressful and full of anxiety.

“You realize that weight that is on your shoulders. You never dreamt it would be so heavy,” Leeman said. “It took a while to get used to that.”

Firefighters wait for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. to arrive in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Firefighters wait for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. to arrive in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Firefighters wait for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. to arrive in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Leeman credited the depth of Bristol Fire and Rescue for helping him adjust to the role. He described his style as “leading from the side,” recognizing the strengths and skills of others and letting them shine, rather than micromanaging.

“I really try to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am,” Leeman said. “I thought I was supposed to know everything, but you can’t. No one can. You have to learn to rely on the skills of others.”

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) speaks with Bristol EMS Service Chief Jeri Pendleton as Leeman's successor, Scott Sutter Jr., looks on in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) speaks with Bristol EMS Service Chief Jeri Pendleton as Leeman's successor, Scott Sutter Jr., looks on in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) speaks with Bristol EMS Service Chief Jeri Pendleton as Leeman’s successor, Scott Sutter Jr., looks on in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

As he adjusted to the role of chief, he continued cooking at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole, another lifelong passion. He worked as a chef for more than four decades and owned the Samoset Restaurant in New Harbor prior to his work at the Darling Marine Center.

Leeman cooked 40-60 hours a week during the busier times of the year, but he was able to keep up with the chief’s work.

Fire trucks from Newcastle, Bremen, and Damariscotta, with an ambulance from the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, line Route 32 in Round Pond the afternoon of Friday, April 30. The display honored Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. on his last day as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)Fire trucks from Newcastle, Bremen, and Damariscotta, with an ambulance from the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, line Route 32 in Round Pond the afternoon of Friday, April 30. The display honored Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. on his last day as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)

Fire trucks from Newcastle, Bremen, and Damariscotta, with an ambulance from the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, line Route 32 in Round Pond the afternoon of Friday, April 30. The display honored Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. on his last day as chief. (Maia Zewert photo)

“But there was always more to be done,” Leeman said. “I got to a point where I found myself nights and days off working on my chief stuff and neglecting chores at home.”

Leeman explained the situation to the department’s membership, which approached the Bristol Board of Selectmen. At annual town meeting in March 2018, Bristol voters agreed to hire a full-time fire chief. Leeman stepped into the position Nov. 5, 2018.

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Bremen Selectman Hank Nevins in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Bremen Selectman Hank Nevins in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Bremen Selectman Hank Nevins in Round Pond on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

“It was a tough spot to be put in as the first full-time fire chief, but he handled all the political pressure well and got us on the right track here,” said Chad Hanna, chair of the board of selectmen.

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Damariscotta 2nd Assistant Fire Chief Josh Pinkham while driving through Round Pond village on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Damariscotta 2nd Assistant Fire Chief Josh Pinkham while driving through Round Pond village on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. (left) shakes hands with Damariscotta 2nd Assistant Fire Chief Josh Pinkham while driving through Round Pond village on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

One of the highlights of Leeman’s tenure of chief is the town’s Safety and Health Award for Public Employers. Given by the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards, the award recognizes public-sector employers who meet high standards for safety and health policies and procedures. All of Bristol’s municipal departments earned the award, a rare feat, Leeman said.

Another initiative is the installation of reflective address numbers that help responders locate addresses more easily. So far, over 1,200 signs have been installed in the town.

“We have enough in town so that there are very few roads that there isn’t at least one reference point,” Leeman said, “but we still have a long way to go.”

Waldoboro firefighter Billy Bragg holds the door for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. as he arrives at the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)Waldoboro firefighter Billy Bragg holds the door for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. as he arrives at the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Waldoboro firefighter Billy Bragg holds the door for Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. as he arrives at the Round Pond fire station on Friday, April 30. (Maia Zewert photo)

Leeman was quick to credit the successes to the collective efforts of the department. However, he spoke about his “failure” personally.

“One thing I really failed at … was increasing our membership, especially adding younger members,” Leeman said. “I’m really hoping with the younger leadership and younger members … they’ll be able to maybe attract more people than some old duffer sitting at the head of the department telling war stories.”

Leeman began to consider stepping down in November, after he realized he felt excitement rather than dread at the thought of retirement. He soon informed the fire department and the selectmen that he would retire at the end of April.

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. shakes hands with Capt. Chris Hilton, of the Damariscotta Fire Department, during a surprise celebration of Leeman's retirement on Friday, April 30. Leeman was overcome with emotion as he was congratulated by a line of firefighters and other emergency workers while driving to the Round Pond station. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. shakes hands with Capt. Chris Hilton, of the Damariscotta Fire Department, during a surprise celebration of Leeman's retirement on Friday, April 30. Leeman was overcome with emotion as he was congratulated by a line of firefighters and other emergency workers while driving to the Round Pond station. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. shakes hands with Capt. Chris Hilton, of the Damariscotta Fire Department, during a surprise celebration of Leeman’s retirement on Friday, April 30. Leeman was overcome with emotion as he was congratulated by a line of firefighters and other emergency workers while driving to the Round Pond station. (Maia Zewert photo)

“We appreciate Paul’s sheer dedication to the job, his love of the town, and the effort he’s put into it over the years,” Hanna said. “I’m sure it will continue.”

Leeman’s dedication to the fire service extends far beyond the borders of Bristol, according to Jefferson Fire Chief Wally Morris.

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. reaches out to high-five Jefferson Fire Chief Walter Morris while driving along Route 32 in Round Pond, Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county organized a surprise retirement celebration for Leeman. (Maia Zewert photo)Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. reaches out to high-five Jefferson Fire Chief Walter Morris while driving along Route 32 in Round Pond, Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county organized a surprise retirement celebration for Leeman. (Maia Zewert photo)

Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. reaches out to high-five Jefferson Fire Chief Walter Morris while driving along Route 32 in Round Pond, Friday, April 30. Firefighters from around the county organized a surprise retirement celebration for Leeman. (Maia Zewert photo)

“Paul is a much-respected fire chief who has definitely been an asset to fire service in Lincoln County,” Morris said. “He’s not only a leader for Bristol Fire and Rescue, but he’s also a leader to all departments.”

Morris recalled a training exercise in October 2019, when Bristol Fire and Rescue burned the old pavilion at Pemaquid Beach. The Jefferson…



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