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Town scrambles to replace
'irreplaceable' employee

Chris Patterson

After 47 years of service to the town, Thurmont's streets and electric superintendent is planning to retire.

And town officials are scrambling, trying to figure out what they will do without him.

In fact, Mayor Martin Burns said the town is considering hiring two people to replace what Joe Fraley, 66, has done solo for so many years.

Burns said Fraley's hard work and diligence and knowledge would make it virtually impossible to find someone to replace him.

But as soon as the town can find someone to replace him, Fraley said, he will retire from service.

"I'm sure we have the best snow removal around and we have very few electric outages because Joe is at the helm," Thurmont Commissioner Bill Blakeslee said. "If we can find someone that is half as professional, dedicated and loyal we will be very fortunate -- and he always does it with a smile on his face."

With an easy laugh and sparkling blue eyes, Fraley is as laid-back and friendly a fellow as they come.

Though Thurmont's commissioners often tease him, he is highly regarded by them for his strong work ethic and unselfish commitment to the town he lives and works in.

Behind that relaxed demeanor is a mind filled with a million tiny details about the workings of Thurmont. He knows where all the power lines are -- even the undocumented ones -- and the gauge size of a line just by looking up at it.

And his sacrifices are legendary. Many in the town can recite stories of Fraley going out in the middle of the night with his crew or on his own to take care of an emergency.

Two weeks ago, Fraley was called out at night to a house fire in town.

Firefighters from the Guardian Hose Company needed a power line cut so they could take care of the fire safely.

Fraley was having trouble getting the power off because it wasn't clear which line to cut, Mayor Burns said, but, he just reached in and cut the right line when the time came.

"If he hadn't been there and had all the experience he has, the house could have sustained even more damage," Burns said.

About one month ago, Fraley and his crew spent hours returning power back to the town after a blackout during a snowstorm.

Fraley's wife, Ann, answered dozens of phone calls from residents wanting to know what was going on during that incident.

In the small Town of Thurmont, Fraley's home number was -- until recently -- the emergency number to call, after hours.

Whether a lightning storm hits, or a snowstorm blows through town, Mayor Burns said Fraley is always the first on the scene, doing what needs to be done. One morning, Burns said, he left for work before sunrise during a snowstorm, and there was Fraley "making sure the snow was being removed.

"Anything the town or the board has asked him to do he's been there and done it. He has a lot of experience that saves us a lot of time and effort."

Commissioner Blakeslee has similar memories of Fraley's hard work. One freezing winter night about 30 years ago, Blakeslee's power went out. Fraley and his crew worked through the night and went "above and beyond" to get the power back on, he said.

The Guardian Hose Company recognized Fraley and his men recently for their regular assistance at fires and for other help they have provided. They gave Fraley and his crew jackets with the fire company insignia.

Fire Chief Chris Kinnaird said the town staff, led by Fraley, has always been there for the company.

"He's a nice guy and would do anything to help anybody," he said.

Fraley has worked for the town since 1957, said he's seen a lot of changes.

When he started his job, crews would take brooms out and sweep the streets manually, or use a pick and shovel for ditches. Now they have machines to do the work.

Fraley said what he would miss most would be the great people he has worked with.

"If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have stayed this long," he said, adding that he won't miss the late hours and calls in the middle of the night.

And he won't miss the paperwork, either.

"No, I won't miss that at all," he said.

Once he retires, he plans to kick back, with no particular plans. He's got no travel plans or any hobbies to dig into -- he's just going to be retired, he said.

"I just might not do anything," he added, smiling.

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