My father’s name is Frederick A. Stanley. He was a fire chief. Not just any old fire chief, either. No, that never would have been good enough for him. For him, only the greatest fire chief most firemen in Rhode Island will ever have the privilege of knowing would do — so that was what he set out to become.
Over the course of his almost 52 years as a chief, although his accomplishments could fill a book, I am only talking about one small piece. This small piece, however, would affect him, and our family, for far longer than any of us ever dreamed.
Somewhere in the late ’70s, my father, while at a chiefs’ convention, witnessed a demonstration of the Hurst Tool, also known as “The Jaws of Life.” After years of having to cut, saw and pry people from accidents with spark-throwing gas-powered saws, crowbars and anything else handy, what he witnessed was nothing short of magic. A hydraulic tool that could literally pull, pry and cut a car apart in minutes — saving immeasurable amounts of time and risk when victims’ lives were on the line.
When he returned to Hope Valley, he immediately set out to obtain the very first set of “Jaws” that had ever entered the State of Rhode Island. He also set up a team of firefighters who would learn all about using this tool to both save lives and conduct demonstrations that other fire departments would attend, learn about its usefulness and themselves purchase to help save lives within their own communities.
Now jump to 1986 — a young girl in Foster, R.I., is driving on a snow-covered road during another famous Foster snowstorm. Unfortunately, she lost control of her vehicle and careened from the road down an embankment and into the woods, where she was critically injured and now helplessly trapped within her vehicle.
Foster Fire Department, now owners of a set of “Jaws,” arrived on the scene, and immediately deployed the tool to save her, efficiently extricating her from the mangled wreckage so the rescue could transport her to the hospital, thereby saving her life.
Now jump to 2001 — a young woman brings her sister out one night to hear a man sing at a restaurant in Wakefield. She meets the man and they spent the entire night talking — both of them magically and almost immediately realizing that this was it. They fell in love and, one year later to the day, were married.
Now jump to 2003 — a baby boy is born to two very proud and happy parents. He came into the world with little fanfare, but was nothing less than a miracle to his proud parents and grandparents.
A couple of years later, while having dinner with my parents and talking fire stuff, which was certainly nothing unusual for us, the Jaws of Life came up in our conversation and went to the fact that my father had brought the very first set of Jaws into Rhode Island and then conducted demonstrations and urged other departments to also obtain this tool, which then spread throughout the state.
During the conversation, my wife began describing a bad accident she had back in 1986 where she was almost killed and they had used the “Jaws” to save her life — SHE was the young girl from the winter car accident in Foster. We all realized she may very well have been saved (although indirectly) by the man sitting across from her at the dinner table, my father. And magically, our son’s name was Frederick Arthur Stanley II.
As firemen, we quite often affect people’s lives in ways we don’t even realize, and sometimes even our own. Incredibly, when you think about it, my father may very well have saved the lives of not only his daughter-in-law, but both of his grandsons, Frederick II and Norman R. Stanley, and probably several generations yet to come, without ever having realized what he was doing other than just trying to save lives with a tool he saw at a convention.
Would the Jaws have come to Rhode Island without my father? Probably. Would Foster Fire have had the Jaws in 1986 if my father hadn’t gotten them and advertised them as he did in the late ’70s? Perhaps. But I like to think, simply if you will, that because he bought them when he did and spread the word about them as tenaciously as he was known to do, he is the man that made it possible for me to meet and fall in love with the shining star of my life and the mother of my sons, and without his actions, my life would not be as incredibly blessed as it is today.
With all of the memorials my father’s name is on, his greatest memorial is a living one. It is my very family — my lovely wife, my incredible sons, and someday, God willing, maybe even grandchildren. As my father’s name and bloodline continues on through us, WE are his living, breathing and continuing memorial, made possible by a hydraulic tool he saw at a fire chief’s convention and bought to save lives.
And this is just one more reason why I am happy and so very proud to be able to say that Chief Frederick A. Stanley was not only a one-of-a-kind fire chief, but he was my father — and I will be indebted and grateful to him for as long as I live.
The writer is a resident of Hope Valley. His father, Fred, passed away in March.