SPRINGFIELD, Maine-- A volunteer firefighter answering a call for assistance at a Prentiss sawmill was killed instantly when the firetruck he was driving overturned on Route 169 at about noon Monday.
Firefighter Peter Beebe-Lawson, 50, of Springfield was coming out of a fairly sharp curve on his way to the fire when he apparently lost control of the 3,500-gallon Freightliner tanker truck at about 11:45 a.m., Trooper Jarod Stedman said.
The tanker went off the right side of the road before veering into pine trees on the road's left side. The tanker absorbed heavy front-end and roof damage and landed on its passenger side.
The truck's sole occupant, Beebe-Lawson was pronounced dead at the scene, Stedman said. The body was taken to Clay's Funeral Home in Lincoln.
A tiny town centered between Lincoln and Topsfield along Route 169 on the eastern edge of Penobscot County, Springfield was hit hard by the loss of Beebe-Lawson, a devout Roman Catholic with several foster children who friends said was planning to open a private school with his wife, Selby.
"It's a horrible loss for our community. Our hearts go out to his family," Selectwoman Lorna Thompson said Monday as she gathered Fire Department insurance information and other data that might help Beebe-Lawson's family.
"We really don't know what happened, and until we do, there's really not much I think we're going to be willing to say," Thompson added. "Everybody knows everybody in a small town like this."
She refused further comment.
"I haven't known him for a long time," Tax Collector Kay Thompson said, "but you could tell he cared about people. He tried to help a lot of people ... he'd try to take care of them, talk with them if they wanted help."
The fire destroyed the sawmill, Cole's Shingle Mill located on Mud Pond Road, said Stephen McCausland, Maine State Police spokesman. An overheated gasoline engine that powered a saw caused the fire at the one-story business, which made cedar shingles. Springfield and Kingman volunteer firefighters fought the blaze.
Beebe-Lawson's death drew condolences from Gov. John Baldacci, who was "deeply saddened by this terrible accident."
"Peter Beebe-Lawson gave his life in the line of duty," Baldacci said in a press release. "Firefighters risk their lives every day protecting the rest of us. They deserve our deepest gratitude and respect."
Firefighters, including Springfield Fire Chief John Krapf, visited the fire scene several times during the day as Troopers Stedman, Trevor Snow, Angela Porter and Marc Poulin worked to reconstruct how the accident occurred.
Krapf and his brother Steve, who is also a Springfield fire volunteer, described Beebe-Lawson as an ardent community participant, eager to help others, despite moving to Springfield only about three years ago.
"He was a very outgoing, friendly person," said Steve Krapf, who met the Beebe-Lawsons at St. James Church, which they attended regularly. "He would talk to anybody. He was always really interested in other people."
Beebe-Lawson was a fully qualified truck driver and the truck regularly passed monthly inspections, John Krapf said. The reconditioned Irving tanker truck, which Krapf described as a 1989 model but state police pegged as a 1973, had no mechanical problems.
"We just had it repainted and we were going to have it re-lettered," Krapf said of the truck.
Beebe-Lawson's was the first accident involving a firetruck, John Krapf said, on that stretch of Route 169, which is sharply crested in the center, has worn but intact blacktop and little emergency lane space on either side.
"We've had logging trucks roll over around here, but that's usually a bit further along the road [toward Prentiss]," Krapf said.
Krapf promised that Springfield firefighters would hold a memorial, perhaps a fundraising supper, in honor of their fallen comrade and to aid his family.
Republished with permission of the Bangor Daily News.