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Ocean City Assistant Fire Chief Charlie Bowman Jr. never really thought about being a firefighter. It’s his passion and he’s good at it.

He has served his community of Ocean City for 37 years, responding to countless calls from fires to water rescues to accident scenes.

“Firefighting was more of a lifestyle for me than a job. It became a part of me,” Bowman said in an interview. “I never really thought about retiring, but I thought at some point I better do it.”

When Bowman is not at the fire station, he spends time with his wife of 31 years, Jennifer, and their children Caroline, 28, Katie, 21, and 18-year-old Kelsea.

“I think the job has been harder on my family. You spend half of your time at the firehouse,” Bowman said. “My kids and my wife have really supported me and they deserve a lot of credit for all these years.”

Bowman rose to deputy chief in 2000. He served as acting chief in 2001. He retired this month and his service and legacy with the Ocean City Fire Department were honored at a ceremony last Friday.

Local, regional and state officials presented Bowman with awards for his service.

Fellow firefighters past and present, as well as family and friends from the community, gathered at the firehouse to honor Bowman for his decades of service and to wish him well in his retirement. His last day was June 1.

His wife and children were in attendance, along with Bowman’s mother, Beth Bowman, and sister, Tricia Branch. His father, Charlie Bowman Sr., died last year.

“I just wish my dad was here,” said Bowman, 61.

He described the changes in the professional world and the need for flexibility and quick thinking for anyone considering becoming a firefighter.

“It’s a risk-taking job. You never know what’s going to happen. You respond to a car accident, a water rescue, a medical call or a fire. It’s a dynamic job, so you have to keep an open mind,” Bowman said.

Charlie and former and current firefighters pose for a group photo.

Bowman was always interested in public service and went to college to become a teacher.

“I never thought I would be a firefighter. I thought I would be a teacher. I started studying to be a teacher. I got a call from the then fire chief, Todd Bower. He asked me if I would be interested in taking the exam.”

Bowman took the test and the rest is history.

“I was hired in 1986. I went home and started the next day,” he recalls.

In all his years as a firefighter, there is one memory that has stuck in his mind.

“I had my first fire early in my career and it was horrific. It was March 31, 1987 on Wesley Avenue and the beach. It was 1 a.m. The wind off the beach was 65 miles an hour,” he said. “It was the first fire I was in and it was a major fire on the beach with three houses. Three people died. Pieces of houses fell off me.

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this job. It’s terrible.’ I remember running back and forth between the houses and parts of the houses being blown away. The fire was brutal.”

He said he reflected on his career choice and his love for his community, and the importance of public service motivated him to stay with the fire department.

He was even instrumental in the beginning of water rescue by the fire department.

“In the ’90s, I asked Chief Bower if we could do more for water rescue. He said we should start something. I got the water rescue program going and we got a boat.”

What he will miss most during his public service is the close-knit family of firefighters.

“It’s really important to be on the same page as the other firefighters,” Bowman said. “We don’t even have to talk. We know what each other is thinking. I’m going to miss the camaraderie we had.”

Charlie here with his mother Beth Bowman and his sister Tricia Branch at his ceremony.

Bowman, like his family, is very active in the community and plans to continue serving the public, but on the water.

He has a captain’s license and a 17-foot fishing boat that he uses in his free time. He also works part-time for Totally Tubular in Ocean City and charters tiki boats. The family also owns a vacation home in Florida.

“It’s going to take me a while to get used to the retirement lifestyle. We’re always busy. I plan on being the captain of the boat and working at TJ’s,” Bowman said. “I definitely enjoy being on the boat. Everyone is always happy on a boat. Being on the water is just good and just fun. That’s what life is like after the firehouse, I’ve been told.”

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