Milford’s oldest firefighter, retired, still dreams of the job

Steve Racz, at age 94 the city’s oldest retired professional firefighter, still dreams about fighting fires.

His life has been full, yet tragic, highlighted by a career he loved but pierced by the death of his daughter at the hands of a drunk driver when she was just 18.

Also pierced by the death of his wife, Harriette — the love of his life — in 2012 at age 85.

But amidst life’s sadnesses, an overall sense of family and community within the Milford Fire Department brought satisfaction and hope, feeding a fire to be part of a community and help protect and safeguard the town he loved.

Racz was born in Manhattan but moved to Milford when he was still very young.

His father owned and operated an antiques shop, and he was also a volunteer firefighter. “When the firehouse was on Factory Lane, dad was a volunteer, and he used to take me and put me on the fire truck,” Racz said.

Perhaps that’s what spurred his young desire to one day be a firefighter.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and when he returned he worked in his father’s antiques shop and signed on as a volunteer firefighter in Milford. He was 31 when he applied to the city’s police and fire departments, telling himself he would take whichever offered him a job first.

It was the fire department, and on Oct. 12, 1954, he officially started his dream job as one of Milford’s professional firefighters.

He remembers battling some of Milford’s big fires, and he remembers the fun times.

For a number of years, marsh fires were common in the Meadowside area, and Racz remembers being in the marsh once when the firefighters saw a number of rats scurrying after the flames were extinguished. Later that night, back at the firehouse, one of the two firehouse cats, Fog or Foam, came upstairs and ran across one of the guy’s chests while he was sleeping.

Maybe dreaming about rats, the firefighter “let out a scream,” Racz said with a laugh.

An on-the-job injury forced Racz to stop fighting fires, but he didn’t leave the department.

“I was running one of the engines, and I jumped out and there was a rock,” he said. “I twisted my knee. I didn’t think anything of it, but later it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

He had ripped the cartilage.

“They were going to retire me, but I said, ‘Can’t I do something?’” Racz said.

That was 1974, and Racz became a fire equipment mechanic in the department’s repair shop.

He was a lieutenant when he retired from the department.

Today, he lives at Heritage Sound, and his home is filled with signs of his love for firefighting, from the firebox at his front door to the scanner that constantly beeps and hums, telling him where firefighters are being sent. He wishes he could go with them.

Instead, he gets up at 4 a.m. each day and heads over to the maintenance shed to have coffee with the people who work there. They got him a scooter to make it easier to get there because walking is a bit tricky these days.

He said he misses everything about being firefighter, but in a reminiscent sort of way. He remembers the camaraderie, the sense of family that came from being part of the Milford Fire Department.

During his career with the department, he served as president of Local 944 Professional Firefighter AFL-CIO — his wife, Harriette, was named the first woman honorary member.

He was also involved in organizing the Police and Firefighters Retirement Association, and he still attends the meetings on occasion.

Last year fire Chief Douglas Edo presented him with a firefighters recognition and dedication award, and Mayor Ben Blake named Dec. 12, 2016 — which was Racz’s birthday — Steve Racz Day in Milford.

He’s thankful for his life as a firefighter.

“Once you get into it, you’re hooked,” he said as the scanner hummed in the background and a dispatcher’s voice could be heard calling out an incident location.

“When I see them go by, I wave,” he said with a smile.