Stone's Tenure 'An Honor and a Pleasure', He Says
The outgoing fire chief looks back at 33 years of Service
Emergency phone calls are commonplace in Easton. Every day there are medical emergencies, car accidents, gas leaks or fires. The call is sent through dispatch to responding firefighters and police officers, who head to the scene with the intention to help whoever is in trouble.
For Fire Chief Tom Stone, helping people who are in distress is what he will miss most.
"Usually when people call you, they’re having the worst day of their life," he said. "It’s rewarding that when you can respond to their need or put them at ease, eliminate their problem, or change their situation so that they’re at least feeling more comfortable."
Stone will end his 33-year career with the Easton Fire Department this month. Former Avon and Berkley chief Kevin Partridge will replace him on Jan. 27.
That will be just one of the dates the outgoing chief will remember. Stone, who has served as chief for the last nine years of his career, remembers the exact date he joined the department.
"I was actually appointed as a call firefighter July 1, 1978," he said. "I was then appointed a full-time firefighter on Sept. 23, 1979."
At the time, he was working at the Steadfast Rubber Company on Oliver Street, where he had worked for six years throughout his college tenure at St. Anselm's and Stonehill College and immediately following graduation.
Steadfast was just a way to buy time until a spot opened up in Easton's department. A fourth-generation firefighter, it was in his blood. Growing up on Mechanic Street, Stone would watch his father, Robert, go to work every day.
At the time, Easton's fire station was located on Sullivan Avenue where the Children’s Museum in Easton is currently located.
"Most days they used to summon them by blowing the fire whistles and of course living that close, I always knew something was up," he said. "I used to kind of chase my dad across the street when he was going to the fires and I’d stand right by the fire station and watch the guys go in and watch the equipment go out."
Since those days, radio alert systems and pagers have replaced the fire whistles. Portable radios - now essential for every firefighter - didn't exist back then, and cell phones and computers were still decades away.
Keeping up with the influx of technology has been one thing Stone said wore him down in his final few years as a firefighter. Mostly, though, the hustle-and bustle of a restless job led to his departure.
"It really is a 24-7 job," he said. "Even when you go home you’re never away from it because you’ve got a pager, a phone and a radio with you. It can be pretty stressful and demanding. In order to do the job properly, you’ve kind of got to be at your maximum energy level. As I’ve gotten older and been at this for a while I can see this starting to wind down. It’s time to go before it completely bottoms out because that’s not the way to do the job."
In retirement, he 57-year-old will look to catch up on some lost time with his wife of 36 years, Donna, and visit their daughter, Mandy in California. While he may not be responding to every call anymore, Stone said he still won't be able to shut off his scanner.
One reason will be to keep tabs on his son Darren, 27, the fifth Stone in a row to work as a firefighter.
"It’s in the blood and he enjoys the job and does it very well," he said.
He'll also miss the thrill that comes with suiting up.
"I’m sure I will probably be standing in the background watching to see how things are going," he said. "Those are the things that are still enjoyable about the job is responding to calls. The excitement level is still there."
While Stone has responded to hundreds of calls throughout his 33 years with the department, most of his struggles and triumphs in his nine years as chief have been in the financial department.
Beginning in 2002, Stone led the department during one of the worst economic downturns in history. While resources and staffing levels became depleted, Easton only increased in population and added development. Throughout his tenure, the chief has been forced to do more with less.
Whether it be replacing fire engines and equipment or finding the money to save a firefighter's job, he has been in a constant struggle to obtain and maintain funds.
"I think trying to maintain our staffing levels or provide the same level of fire protection as the town has grown has been difficult," he said. "Yet, our staffing levels really haven’t grown all that much. They haven’t kept pace with the growth of town so it’s been a challenge trying to get all the day-to-day activities done."
The financial struggle will continue for Partridge when he takes over for Stone.
But, the biggest piece of advice Stone can offer is to maintain strong relationships with all of Easton's department heads.
"Continue the cooperative spirit that exists in this town," he said. "All of the department heads get along very well with various boards and committees and to some way be able to fit into that and continue that."
As a lifelong resident, Easton will always be a priority for Stone. Even in retirement, he hopes to remain active and visible.
"To me its been an honor and a pleasure to be able to serve the townspeople as a firefighter and for the last nine years as their fire chief," he said.