Generations of volunteers

Published 6:25 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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Isle of Wight County’s emergency service organizations have changed dramatically during the past couple of decades. From a time when volunteers did the heavy lifting — basically all the lifting — to today, when paid fire and rescue workers are the norm and volunteers supplement the manpower in the larger departments.

It’s been a painful transition for some of the volunteers who have devoted much of their lives to fire and rescue work. Some of them began as teenage rookies and continued pulling shifts while raising families and holding down jobs in adulthood.

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One family that stands out among the county’s volunteers is the Stallings clan. It was my good fortune to become a volunteer with the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department when John R. Stallings Sr. was its chief. I have never met a more level headed, unflappable person than Chief John Stallings. He emphasized service, training and above all, safety, in the operation of the department and had the respect of fire departments throughout the region.

John R. Jr., was a fire officer for years and led firefighters with the same confident and quiet demeanor for which his father was known.

After Chief Stallings’ retirement, I.N. (Buddy) Jones, a Stallings protégé, took the reins and managed the department deftly until his retirement.

Then came another Stallings. John’s son Mickey accepted the top post briefly before turning it over to yet another of Stallings’ longtime officers, Bill Chapman. And, most recently, grandson Jason Stallings became chief and held the position for 11 years. He will step down this fall.

Beginning this fall, the department will be led by Jerry Hackney, a retired fire fighting professional who has been a longtime and well respected Smithfield volunteer.

I’m generally not a big fan of dynasties. They’re not what we typically think of as “American.” But volunteer service to the community is the one big exception to that bias. Scattered throughout Isle of Wight’s fire and rescue organizations are many multi-generations of volunteers. Sons and daughters who tagged along with fathers and mothers to the fire or rescue station “got the bug,” and at some point, joined. Their service has been and remains of immense value to the county, and none more so than the Stallings family.

Jason says he will remain active in the Smithfield department and I hope he will. As an old, worn out firefighter, I can understand why he wants to. A siren can still get my attention — night or day.