AMESBURY — Much has changed since the first day Amesbury firefighter Ozzie Morrill joined the force 35 years ago.
Air tanks have gotten a lot lighter, thanks to the demise of metal bottoms, and fire trucks can hold far more water than before. Back then, fire departments hired firefighters and then trained them to become emergency medical technicians. Today, EMTs are hired and then trained to be firefighters.
Personnel has changed, too. Morrill has seen several chiefs with last names ranging from Frost to Chute to the current chief, Jonathan Brickett.
But during all those years, what remained a constant at the School Street fire department until yesterday was Morrill. The 53-year-old fire department veteran said goodbye to his co-workers past and present during a two-hour retirement party yesterday inside Amesbury Town Hall auditorium.
"I have no idea where the last 35 years have gone," the lifelong Amesbury resident said. "It has been an honor to live and serve in the same community."
During his years on the force, Morrill had become the go-to guy in terms of fire safety. Fifteen years ago, Morrill became the department's safety coordinator, which made him a constant presence inside the town's schools. There, he educated generations of kids on the importance of having working smoke detectors and ways to get out of houses safely.
Morrill has also been organizing the department's open houses for years. The last one in October drew hundreds of people, who took advantage of station tours, firefighting demonstrations and refreshments. While the open house has been held inside the station in years past, last year's took place outdoors, allowing the department a chance to demonstrate rappelling techniques and give kids a feel for a mini-fire hose.
Morrill's brother, Jerry Morrill, is expected to succeed him as the department's safety coordinator.
Morrill's work inside the schools was a running theme yesterday as Mayor Thatcher Kezer spoke of his legacy.
"The power of his personality affected a multi-generation of kids," Kezer said.
Morrill's youngest daughter, 22-year-old Nicole, seemed to be on the verge of tears when asked about what her father meant to the community and the students he visited.
"The legacy of firefighter Ozzie will live on," Nicole Morrill said at the party, which was attended by family, friends and a few special guests.
Newburyport fire Chief Stephen Cutter said he became a firefighter about the same time Morrill joined the Amesbury department.
"He'll be missed," Cutter said.
While Morrill will no longer be fighting fires, he will remain involved by continuing his work as a liaison between the families of fallen and deceased firefighters and the department. He will also continue maintaining the firefighter's memorial in town and promoting the department's yearly Memorial Sunday event.
He'll also remain busy with his business, Morrill Electric, which he started in 1979.
Brickett said he was very pleased to see Morrill leave healthy and happy, but was sad that his longtime friend would no longer be answering the tone when a call comes through the loudspeaker.
"Not too many people can follow his lead, so we're going to miss him," Brickett said. SClB