Morris fire chief steps down after decades in post

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David “Dusty” Stockdale remembers the first major fire he helped extinguish more than 40 years ago.


“It was on a cold night,” he recalled. “It was about 10 degrees, and the roads were covered with snow. We got on scene and set up, and almost all the outlets on the truck were frozen shut. That was a bad night.”


During his 32 years as chief of Morris Township Volunteer Fire Department, Stockdale has endured the elements – the bitter cold, ice and roaring flames – in order to save lives. Although Stockdale recently stepped down from his position as chief, he still plans to stick around to help the department.


Stockdale, 62, of Prosperity, said he was initially drawn to firefighting because it was exciting. Like many seasoned emergency response workers, that excitement dwindled over the years, and he started to prefer peace and quiet.


“I’m not as anxious to go as I used to be,” Stockdale said. “Whenever the siren goes off and the pagers beep, I’m more in the mindset of, ‘What do we got now? How are we going to take care of this?’ instead of being excited.”


The larger motivating factor, however, was the opportunity to help people. Stockdale became certified as an emergency medical technician in the mid-70s, and his training enabled him to save lives. For Stockdale, that made the work worthwhile.


“I think back to all the good things I’ve done, and people we’ve saved, and properties we’ve saved,” he said. “I’ve brought several people back to life from cardiac arrest and things like that. It’s a good feeling, especially when they make a full recovery.”


Stockdale retired last February from his position as a registered nurse with Washington Hospital. He said his experiences as an EMT inspired him to attend the hospital’s School of Nursing in his mid-30s. He previously worked as a mechanic for seven years and as a dairy farmer for 10 years.


David Dietrich, who recently took over as fire chief, has been the assistant chief for 18 years, and he has worked alongside Stockdale even longer. He said the “dynamic duo” has endured hardships over the years, but they also have fond memories.


Dietrich recalled one particularly cold night in the late ’80s when the department responded to a nursing home fire. After battling the flames for eight hours until dawn, “the unthinkable happened” on the drive back to the station. They ran out of fuel.


“We were froze to the bone and covered in ice, and back in those days, we didn’t have the modern technology and the vehicles we have now,” Dietrich said. “We just kind of laughed and chuckled and wondered, ‘What are we doing?’”


Yet someone has to do the job, and Dietrich said Stockdale is always calm and composed while handling difficult situations.


“He’s a pretty cool cat when it comes to any calls, because nothing seems to ever rattle him,” Dietrich said. “He’s very faithful and loyal to the fire department.”


Stockdale, who recently underwent open-heart surgery, will continue to serve as assistant chief after he’s fully recovered. He said he is eager to get back to answering calls at the station.


“I try to put myself in a position where I can do all I can to help people in the community,” Stockdale said.


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