April 19, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
Captain Rob Keyes, a longtime resident, retired recently after serving with the Hingham Fire Department for more than 33 years in different roles, including 12 years as an EMT on ambulance runs, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) coordinator, and founder of the town's Citizens Fire Academy.
While he had been preparing for retirement for awhile, Keyes found working his last shift at the end of March to be more difficult than he had imagined.
"It never seemed like work to me," he told the Hingham Anchor. "I always enjoyed serving in that role," which includes long overnight shifts. "During my last night, I didn't sleep at all and just wandered around the station thinking, 'I won't be doing this anymore.'"
What Keyes will miss most is the camaraderie. "Firefighters spend a lot of time together at the station in tight quarters, cooking meals and performing other tasks as part of a team in addition to responding to calls," he said.
During his long years of service, Keyes experienced many changes in the way the HFD operates. "We have always looked to the future without forgetting our past," he explained. "We've embraced technology while still holding tight to tradition."
One of the biggest adjustments during his career was HFD transitioning about 20 years ago from providing EMT Basic Life Support to paramedic Advanced Life Support (ALS). "That [greatly] changed the role of the fire department," Keyes said.
That transition also changed the practice at that time of hiring almost all Hingham residents to fill EMT openings. That's because there was a need to expand the hiring base when the decision to offer ALS was made.
In an effort to find as soon as possible the most qualified paramedics -- a position that requires extensive training -- HFD began hiring individuals already trained in that role, many of whom had no connections with the town. "That wasn't a bad thing, but it changed the culture of HFD," according to Keyes.
At the time the decision was made to change to providing ALS services, Keyes explained, HFD EMTs had the option to undergo paramedic training. A few chose to do so, and firefighter-EMTs who retired or left the department for other reasons were replaced with paramedics. "The transition didn't happen overnight," Keyes said.
The decision of whether or not to undergo paramedic training himself was taken out of his hands when he was promoted to a lieutenant position in 2001. "It was perfect timing," he recalls.
After serving in that capacity for 10 years, Keyes was promoted to captain. He served as shift commander out of Central Fire Station in Hingham Centre until his retirement. In that role he handled personnel matters and ensured that adequate staffing was in place and that the town's fire service operation was running smoothly, among other duties.
"While captains don't generally go on routine medical calls, we are on the scene when there is a serious car accident, a fire, or other emergency situation in order to take charge of [the operation]," Keyes said.
While he hadn't always wanted to be a firefighter when he eventually decided to consider becoming one, Keyes admits, his biggest desire was to help people. "I toyed with the idea of joining the military, but at a friend's suggestion I took the firefighter exam and passed. Everything fell into place from there," he recalled. "I had never pictured myself riding on an ambulance, but once I was hired in 1987 I felt that it was my calling."
One of the hardest experiences he went through, which occurred quite a few years ago, was responding to a SIDS case when he had a very young son of his own. "That was very difficult, especially as a first-time parent," he said.
One of his favorite memories was helping to deliver a baby in the late 1990s in the back of an ambulance, which firefighters are trained to do in an emergency. "There was a happy ending -- a little boy, whose mother brought him for a visit to the fire station when he was about a year old. We had our photos taken with them -- it was a very cool experience," Keyes recalled.
He believes that individuals who are drawn to fire service, like himself, are "not there to make a lot of money. It's more about helping people and serving something bigger than yourself. I consider it a privilege to have served with like-minded firefighters who desired to make a difference in someone's life."
This has been especially apparent during COVID-19. "When the pandemic first started, nearly everything was shut down, but the HFD and Hingham Police Department were really on the front lines," Keyes said. "The unknowns were scary, but we knew that was what we had to do."
Hingham's firefighters respond not only to medical and other emergencies but are also available to help residents with more routine matters. "We receive calls from people who aren't sure how to shut their water off, are having trouble with an appliance, or who have another issue saying they didn't know who else to call," Keyes said. "That's part of the job. If we can't fix something or find a solution, we will refer them to someone who can. It's nice for people to know we're here for them."
Keyes, a lifelong Hingham resident and graduate of Hingham High School, has plans for his new-found free time, including continuing to work part-time on the South Shore Hospital's ambulance service, transferring patients to other facilities or back home.
Although he considers himself a "homebody," having lived in town all his life, Keyes is looking forward to traveling with his wife, Kelly, at some point.
He expressed appreciation for the support his wife and their two grown sons, Ryan and Tyler, have given him over the years in his different roles with HFD. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without them."