South Kingstown – Union Fire District Chief Robert Perry is stepping down and taking his retirement a few months earlier than expected due to an internal accord that had the Board of Wardens asking Perry to take his retirement on Monday.
Whether that retirement be in July or December, the Chief’s history with the department has been stellar.
The Chief in August 2011 was named National Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year, as nominated by his department and colleagues. The members of the Union Fire District painstakingly worked together with the Chief’s family on the nomination and were able to pull it off without the Chief ever having an inkling as to the coming awards.
Upon getting word that the Chief was indeed going to be the 2011 honoree, I was also sworn to secrecy, and had to scramble to get local interviews from the brethren without alerting the Chief. The article, written for the South Kingstown Patch and posted on August 17, 2011, was one of my favorite feature pieces to date.
His members called me on the “QT,” – rang in from the golf course, their cars and places out of Perry’s range. They were absolutely thrilled to have pulled off the coop. “There isn’t much that doesn’t get by the Chief” was the underlying theme.
All were happy to have the opportunity to give “props” to their Chief.
Every single out of market call I made across the country was well-received and returned. Everyone wanted to weigh in on Chief Perry’s accolades.
As a journalist, working with the Chief was always a pleasure. As a resident of South Kingstown, I knew two things were infinite. Chief Perry cared deeply for the community he served and perhaps, even more importantly, was absolute in his dedication to the men and women of his department.
There was never a call placed to Chief Perry’s office, by me, that went unreturned. There was never an interview, including his National Award article, where he didn’t turn the spotlight to those who served in his department.
One of my most memorable moments working with the Chief was during the early morning hours in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. As I waded through water in East Matunuck, heading towards Jerusalem, I saw lights coming towards me. It was the Chief’s truck, motoring through the ebbing tide on Succotash Road.
The Chief could have continued by as I was photographing the destruction, but that wasn’t his way. Chief Perry pulled over and in a few short minutes was able to brief me on the destruction across town.
“Jerusalem was hit hard,” he said. “There’s a lot of damage and debris. We’ve lost some cottages – the Browning’s Cottages were heavily damaged.” Then, almost knowing that my path was going to lead to Matunuck, the Chief smiled and said, “The Ocean Mist looks ok. Tara’s took a hit. Homes were damaged. Mary’s is under water.Everything will need to be inspected.”
He walked me through the damage in the village, downed trees, flooding, electrical lines. He spoke of the flooding in Green Hill. The moon came up and the destruction to the trailer’s along Succotash, under water, and overturned – pieces of dock, debris, and homes floating in the road was revealed.
He forewarned me of what I was going to see as I ventured down the road into Jerusalem. Then I was proffered my heed to safety first, and with a smile and a shake of his head he moved on.
I am sorry that I won’t be writing the story of the Chief’s retirement after 10 years at the helm. It would have been wonderful to see the Union Fire District, sending Perry off in style after several decades – lifelong service to the department and town.
I wish the Chief well in his retirement and expect that I will see him in full fire attire in future encounters.
Note: The link for the Patch article referred to above was restored. Click here to read.