ARMONK, N.Y. -- During his 60 years as a volunteer member of the Armonk Fire Department, Mitch Sime fought some of the biggest blazes in the town’s history.
As a long-time town resident, the emotional damage from those fires still hurt the 82-year-old firefighter. He recalls fires at a lumber yard, the town center and super-sized homes where families lost everything they owned. Sime has seen them all since joining the department in 1956, and while he enjoys his association with the unit, the pain inflicted on families and businesses from the blazes stick with him.
One that's forever seared in his memory occurred at the corner of Maple and Main Streets during the late 1970s or early 1980s -- he doesn't recall the precise year -- in which a heating system malfunction started a fire that destroyed a butcher shop, shoe store, insurance office and a dentist’s practice. A women’s clothing store, True Grace, now occupies the space. “That was a bad fire,’’ Sime said. “That sat vacant for a very long time.”
He said it's hard to think at the time about what people lose -- at the time you're just interested in getting the fire out -- but after, when you think about it, you get sad. "People lose their business and it's a loss for everybody," he said. "You lose your home and all your stuff goes up in flames. It's stuff you'll never be able to replace."
Sime served as the department’s chief from 1965-66. He’s still a fixture at the department, and reports to the firehouse everyday to “do whatever needs to be done.” In fact, you'll often find him driving the rigs that bring the firefighters to the call. Look a little closer and you'll see the sign Mitch Sime Place where the firehouse is located.
“He’s helpful and has a great deal of respect within the department,’’ said Carlos Cano, the current chief of the department. “He can tell you about anything related to the department. He knows all the apparatus. He knows when the crew is changed. He’s always joking with other members of the department. Everybody who is here knows he is involved for the right reasons, to serve the town and help its residents.”
Sime joined the department in 1956 shortly after marrying his wife, Jean, an Armonk native. He worked as landscaper and private estate caretaker, which allowed him the flexibility to report to fire calls at a moment’s notice.
“The town was much different then and the department was much different,’’ Sime said. “Most of the members worked in town. It was pretty rural. Now it’s fully developed and a lot of the volunteers work in New York City or New Jersey. Back then, everybody in town knew everybody else. It was one big family.”
Friends who were members of the department asked Sime to join, and when he did, he moved quickly up the ladder. “I don’t think I thought about becoming chief,’’ he said. “You had to do the training and work into it. After I got into it I thought I’d like to make a run for it and go all the way to the top.”
Sime, who also served as secretary for the Armonk Board of Fire Commissioners, said equipment has improved dramatically over the years. He talks about the changes with other members of the department who have also been active for nearly six decades. “We talk about the old days and how it was way back then,’’ Sime said. “The trucks hardly had heat. You stood on the back of the truck. We didn’t have portable radios, pagers and telephones. I’m not thrilled with all of them. But you have to accept them.”
The thing that hasn’t changed is Sime’s unwavering commitment to the department. When the pager wakes him in the middle of the night, he always responds. “It wakes Jean up, too,’’ he said. “It doesn’t bother her. She’s used to it by now.”
Reflecting on his six decades with the department, Sime said he doesn’t think he’d do anything differently. “Everything’s gone quite well,’’ he said. “The thing is, I enjoy being around the people I know. I still come in the morning and do little odds and ends. There’s always something to do here.”
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