It took a little bit of coaxing for Don Frye to join the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District back in 1979, but the longtime community servant and assistant fire chief has finally decided to hang up his turnout gear.
On Monday, Frye was the guest of honor at a retirement party held at Sanibel Fire Station #1, which he has called his "home away from home" for the past 31 years and three months.
"I moved here back in 1976, and I was looking to get involved with a community organization," recalled Frye. "I talked with Alan Nave, who was the fire chief at the time, and he talked me into joining. I was a volunteer firefighter for two years."
But when the local district offered him a full-time job, he initially turned down the opportunity.
"They asked me again to do it, and I finally said yes," he added with a laugh. "The only difference was I was going to get paid to do the work."
Monday's farewell celebration included a luncheon, a few tributes from both current and former co-workers, a handful of gifts plus the addition of Frye's own brick to be included at the station's "Walk Of Fame."
"We're going to miss Donny's knowledge of the island, and all of the alarm systems," said Fire Chief Danny Duncan. "He took a thankless job and wound up having people thank him. It seems like every year that he won Fireman of the Year."
Former chief Rich Dickerson also attended Frye's retirement party, offering, "I worked with Don for over 20 years. And he worked for five different fire chiefs... but it took Danny to get rid of him!"
In his 35 years living on Sanibel, Frye admits that he's seen a number of big changes.
"There are a lot more people here now," he said. "And we thought that it was busy during season 20 years ago, but it's nothing compared to what we have now."
Frye, whose retirement becomes effective March 31, is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and grandson. And doing a lot of fishing.
"Between all of the people at the fire department I know so well, and the condominium and business owners I've met over the years, I'm really gonna miss those relationships," said Frye, who noted that his decision to retire came shortly after the passing of a good friend and fellow islander, Dick Aldrich, late last year.
"That made me stop and think," he added.
Frye's replacement as fire marshall is Rick Tassoni, who joined the district staff earlier this year.
"Everybody loves Don," said Duncan. "He really has been the face of our fire department." JEFF LYSIAK