Robert (Bob) Kierstead,
Past and Present Fire Officers gathered
Retired Fire Chief Robert (Bob) Kierstead died in November 2011. As he wished, Bob was laid to rest without a lot of fanfare, but I feel I have to make note of this man's passing. Bob was a Hancock native, and did a great deal for the Town in his many years here. Like his father, he was a Selectman, and he was our Town Clerk for a good length of time. He ran the Hancock Toy Shop in that funky building at the base of Norway Hill Road for years, and was an accomplished woodworker. He and his wife, Marilyn, raised their two daughters in their home on Wilder Road. However, his biggest mark of the town was holding the position of Fire Chief for almost 22 years. He took over the department at a relatively young age, and made huge strides to bring it forward.
Bob became Chief in the early 1970's, when we were still crammed into the old station behind the Market. Somehow, they shoe-horned three trucks into that building, and still had room for meetings, not to mention a pool table. Under Bob's leadership, our current Fire Station was designed, financed, and built, and was put into service in 1980. He and a few others did comprehensive studies of the fire protection needs of the town, and came up with a plan to keep two fire engines and two tanker trucks in the station, and put those four pieces of apparatus on a regular replacement schedule, both to keep our trucks up to date, and to even out the financing of the equipment. Hancock now has over 6000 gallons of "water on wheels", quite a bit more than our surrounding towns. Because of Bob Kierstead's foresight, we can make a significant first attack on a structure fire before Mutual Aid units arrive from other departments.
Bob instituted a training schedule to keep all firefighters up to date on the latest techniques and equipment. Hancock bought it's first Rescue Truck. Before then, if you needed a ride to the hospital, you were picked up by a combination ambulance/ hearse. Dead or alive, you were getting hauled off in that rig! Hancock trained and certified it's first EMTs. Members were given pagers to alert them to a call, rather than relying on hearing the fire horn or getting a phone call. SCBAs (air packs) were purchased so firefighters could enter a burning building safely, rather than using the old "surround and drown" technique of firefighting.
Bob could still be Old School, however. I can recall several instances when we were called to a house fire; Bob would arrive first, then assign members from the first engine to go inside to find the fire. He made sure they had full gear- air packs, helmets and hoods, gloves, etc. We were always instructed to crawl into a house filled with smoke. Bob would then walk inside behind that crew, with no more protection than a bunker coat. He would stoop over to get below the smoke, but wasn't about to get down on his hands and knees, as he didn't want to mess up his khakis. He would do a quick appraisal of the situation, then back his way outside. He might hack and spit a little from the smoke, but then he would light up one of his little White Owls, and proceed to give assignments to the arriving crews.
The photo above is one of the few action shots we have of Bob. He was not a man to pose for pictures. This was taken in 1993 at the scene of a fire in Bud Wilder's garage on Forest Road. While it is a bit out of focus, I feel it captures Bob in his element.
I think every new recruit to any fire department remembers his or her first Chief. Bob was my first Chief, and while Lindy Joseph and Mike Cass did an excellent job in that position after him, Bob is how I still picture a Fire Chief to act. In his 22 years, I know he influenced a large number of Hancock firefighters, both past and present. Our Department and the Town owe Bob a great debt of gratitude.
Nevan Cassidy, Chief, Hancock Fire Department