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City man gets state honor

June 21, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Rick Kipe, who delayed his retirement from the Hagerstown Fire Department for 13 months while the fire chief battled a rare nerve disease, is being honored by a state organization.

Kipe, 57, was within six weeks of his Feb. 14 retirement when, on Dec. 29, 2002, Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker was sidelined by a potentially fatal illness that almost paralyzed him.

As deputy chief, part of Kipe's job was to be in command when the chief was absent. Kipe volunteered to delay his retirement while Hawbaker dealt with his physical problems.

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"I'd stay on as long as I'm needed," he said.

Kipe did not realize it would be March 2004 before he would get the chance to retire.

For those efforts and his 33-year career with the department, he was nominated by City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman to be named Employee of the Year by the Maryland Municipal League, an association of town and city governments.

Kipe and an employee from Hyattsville, Md., won that designation and will be honored at a June 28 ceremony in Ocean City, Md.

"I am very honored the city would think enough of me to honor me," Kipe said last week. "I am very humbled that the people in this organization consider me among the best in Maryland."

Kipe said the choice to delay the retirement seemed the natural, right decision to make. When someone needs help, it is only right to provide it, he said.

"That is kind of his nature," Zimmerman said of Kipe's modesty.

Kipe has a long relationship with the Hagerstown Fire Department.

Kipe was fascinated by firetrucks as a child, he said. His family knew he would be disappointed, even when he was only 3 years old, if a trip to downtown Hagerstown did not include a visit to a fire station so he could play on the firetrucks.

Later, a dream came true when he was able to work as a volunteer firefighter and later was paid to work for the fire department, he said.

"It was like going to a toy store when you are a kid and getting hired to run the toy store," he said.

Now that Kipe is officially retired, he and his wife plan to travel to Hawaii and other locations, he said. In between trips, he will go to Ocean City to collect his award, he said.

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