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Center Ossipee Fire Station dedicated to retired chief

FORMER CENTER OSSIPEE FIRE CHIEF Roland C. Stockbridge and his wife Loretta (left) wait as current Chief Michael Brownell unveils the plaque dedicating the station as the “Roland C. Stockbridge Safety Building.” (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
August 04, 2011
OSSIPEE— Over the course of 32 years as Center Ossipee Fire Department's chief, it is estimated that Roland Stockbridge had a total of 180 firefighters under his direction. His service to the department has continued since his 2001 retirement as he has served as the department's chaplain and, most recently, as the citizen representative to the committee exploring the possible consolidation of the town's three fire precincts.

It was a meeting of that committee that Stockbridge thought he was going to when he came down to the fire station from his home on Moultonville Road last Saturday, July 30. Everyone else waiting at the station knew the real reason – he was being recognized in a surprise ceremony in which the fire station was being renamed The Roland C. Stockbridge Safety Building.

The ceremony preceding the unveiling of the plaque that now graces the front of the station revealed Stockbridge's many accomplishments during his 50 or so years of volunteer service.

As with just about everything, the Ossipee fire service has changed in all those years. The chiefs now earn a salary and the firefighters are actually considered employees and earn a wage, however small, when they go on calls. The members are more pressed for time and have to juggle their schedules to stay involved. While long ago the norm might have been for wives to stay home to tend to the household and the children while the husband worked, that is now the exception with both spouses now working at least one job and families busier than ever. The national fire service standards governing the protection and preservation of life and property, including firefighter safety, have dramatically increased demands to keep up with changing rules and regulations and technology. Everything is more expensive, with the current fire chief estimating the cost to outfit and train a new member to be about $10,000.

It appears that the one thing that hasn't changed though is when a man (and now a woman) decides he wants to become a firefighter, to be part of the "brotherhood," and serve his community, it's nearly impossible to deter that desire, just as it was impossible to deter Stockbridge back in 1960.

Center Ossipee Fire Chief Michael Brownell told the story he'd heard that, back in 1960, Stockbridge used to ride his bicycle down to the fire station and hang around, hoping to be accepted into the group. At one visit, the firefighters at the time "got after him" and sent him home very upset. But it didn't sway Stockbridge's interest and it was pure stamina and determination that would result in his name being added to the department's roster as a call member in 1960. Most firefighters have to work their way through the ranks, with only a select group ever attaining the title of fire chief. Stockbridge served as the department's secretary for nine years and then was elected chief with the support of the 35 members.

Rural volunteer fire departments don't have the manpower or the means to provide fire protection completely on their own and rely heavily on help from neighboring departments. Stockbridge recognized this need decades ago and started the talks to create a mutual aid system. This led to the creation of Ossipee Valley Mutual Aid Association that now includes 12 towns and several associate member emergency organizations. He served as president of that association for seven years.

Stockbridge helped design and put into service several fire engines during his years as fire chief. Beyond the usual pumper and tanker trucks, perhaps the most beloved was in 1984. In that year, the department purchased a bread truck that was used to shuttle firefighters to fire scenes. Prior to that, as was common in many departments, firefighters would just jump on the back of an engine to get to the scene.

During the mid-1970s, while Stockbridge was the town's water and sewer superintendent, he was very involved in the design and construction of the Center Ossipee fire hydrant system that continues to provide water for putting out fires. In fact, the water holding tank on Valley Road also bears a plaque honoring Stockbridge for his service to that department.

A problem that many departments have run into over the years, as fire engines have gotten bigger and have more equipment on them, is having to custom order these vehicles to fit in older, smaller fire stations. This hasn't been a problem for Center Ossipee. Stockbridge was the driving force behind the carefully planned construction of the addition to the fire station that was completed in 1990, including passing muster of the precinct's taxpayers, acquiring property, and building a station that Brownell said is so well built it serves the needs of the department well and has been maintenance-free.

Several speakers addressed the group at Saturday's ceremony, including former department member Barry Williams who recounted the night of the Center Ossipee Inn fire when Stockbridge's calm leadership contained that fire, preventing it from spreading to the many other village buildings in close proximity. Retired Effingham Fire Chief Richard Thompson and retired Tamworth Fire Chief David Bowles, who also helped form the mutual system thanked Stockbridge for his service and friendship, "You are very near and dear to me," said Thompson.

But perhaps the most touching words came from a tearful Sandra Freeman, Stockbridge's daughter, who lived her life as the fire chief's daughter. She thanked those in attendance for honoring her father with the dedication but it was the words, "I'm so proud of you and I love you dad" that brought several in the audience to tears.

A slideshow was presented of pictures from the past and a plaque now graces the front of the fire station which reads, "The Center Ossipee and the Precinct citizens hereby dedicate this safety building to Fire Chief Roland C. Stockbridge for his personal design and committed efforts in the Center Ossipee Fire Station. Chief Stockbridge served as fire chief in Center Ossipee from 1969-2001. This dedication is made on the 30th day of July 2011. This building will be known from this day forward as the Roland C. Stockbridge Safety Building."

Fitting for a man who is known as someone with "commitment to the community that has never wavered" and whose "teachings continue on to this day."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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