Ridgefield firefighter Michael Drake retires after 40 years

Fires, rescues, ambulance calls, women in labor — after the adventures of four decades with the Ridgefield Fire Department, Mike Drake is retiring from life on Ridgefield’s front lines.

He has been a firefighter, an emergency medical technician and a deputy fire marshal, with duties ranging from post-fire investigations to fire prevention inspections of businesses and apartment buildings.

He finished up Thanksgiving week.

There have been memorable moments.

“I was working overtime for a snowstorm, and both ambulances were out on calls. My brother John was the captain and we were the only two left at the firehouse, and we got a call for a woman in labor,” Mike Drake said.

“So we responded in the engine, and myself, my brother John and two Ridgefield police officers ended up delivering the baby in the bathroom.

“It was the only time in my career I ended up delivering a baby. That that happened seven years ago,” he said. “In a snowstorm, we had no ambulances, we had no paramedics, and our training just kicked in.”

Casagmo rescue

Drake rescued a woman from a burning apartment at Casagmo.

“Back in late ’80s, we only had three guys on duty at headquarters station and two guys were on a call,” he said.

Drake was the only on-duty firefighter at the firehouse. Luckily Jerry Myers, now the department’s chief, happened to be in the building, though not on duty — until the call came in reporting a fire at Casagmo — an apartment complex with hundreds of units, where a fire could be catastrophic.

“We pulled up, smoke was coming out. And fire,” Drake said. “The neighbors were telling us the woman was still in there.

“Jerry started the fire operations — he had to stretch the hose lines. It was just him and I when we pulled in, and I had people basically pulling me out of the truck saying she was still in there, and I had nothing to do but go in and look for her.

“I went into the condo, and fortunately was able to make my way through the smoke and found her, and got her out.”

Drake received a meritorious service award from the State of Connecticut for the rescue.

The woman he pulled form the burning condominium lived about another six months.

“Sue Manning was the first selectwoman at the time and she was friendly with the family and they were very appreciative they were able to spend the final six months with her,” Drake said.

Example to all

With Drake retiring, Chief Myers spoke of the wide range of his service.

“His 40 years of service to the Town and the Department has been an example for both senior members of the department as well as new members who have been mentored by him,” Chief Myers said.

“Mike has been a firefighter that can be relied upon to do the right thing for his entire career. Whether rescuing victims from burning buildings, disentangling people from wrecked vehicles, delivering babies, or just offering a kind word to someone who reached out to 911 because they did not know what else to do, Mike has always been a leader and a problem solver.

“His knowledge of firefighting, rescue and emergency medical services has resulted in both property and lives being saved.”

Myers also praised Drake’s service as a deputy fire marshal — inspecting, making sure buildings meet code, and assisting with investigations into the causes of fires.

“As a Deputy Fire Marshal, Mike has demonstrated a thorough understanding of the Life Safety Code,” Myers said. “His ability to enforce the Life Safety Code in an understanding collaborative way has earned him the respect of the building and business leaders he has interacted with.

“Mike has earned the respect of every member of the department,” Myers said. “... We will miss having him by our side during emergencies.”

Ambulance calls are the bulk of the department’s work.

“It’s probably about 70/30 — 70 percent EMS to 30 percent fire,” Drake said. “But in Ridgefield we’re all cross-trained to do fire, EMS and all types of rescue work, like vehicle extractions, rope rescue work. Really, you wear a lot of hats. That’s what makes the job so appealing.”

Drake started in high school.

“I was a member of the volunteers for a couple of months, and then when I graduated from high school in 1980 — the town was growing by leaps and bounds back in the ’80s — I applied for a job. I was fortunate enough to get hired.”

He eventually added deputy fire marshal duties.

“It was a nice way to finish off my career,” he said. “I still worked my shift. I was still considered a line firefighter. But one to two days a week I’d come in — not my regularly scheduled shift, this was a part-time job — to work in the fire marshal’s office as a deputy fire marshal.

“That work mostly entails routine building inspections and we’d also come in for any fire that would occur in town, to help the fire marshal with that investigation.”

He’s seen operations improve with new equipment and training.

“I started in the ’80s. We didn’t get a hydraulic rescue tool — which they call ‘the jaws of life’ — until 1990, when they first came out,” he said. “We have all the state-of-the-art equipment today.

“In EMS, when I started in the department It was pretty much just basic first aid and transportation to the hospital,” he said. “Now it’s evolved to the paramedic service, which is kind of like bringing the emergency room right to your house, with medications and diagnostic equipment. It’s incredible how good the service really is.

“The standard today is excellent, and it just got better and better over time.”

Travel

Drake is looking forward to retirement and doing things with his wife, Joann, who works in financial services.

“I’m excited to retire: 40 years has been a terrific journey, but I want to start to travel a little bit with my wife,” he said.

“We don’t really know where we want to retire, so we want to take some time and do some traveling and find somewhere we can call a retirement home.”

They have two children.

“My daughter is a schoolteacher down in North Carolina and my son is a biomedical researcher for UConn,” Drake said.

“They both didn’t go anywhere near the fire service.”